Access to affordable medicines

A global aim is to provide access to affordable medicines on a sustainable basis in developing countries. The past decade has seen a strong policy emphasis on public health and access to medicines in the WTO, including making needed medicines available − especially anti-retroviral drugs to combat HIV/AIDS − at lower prices, enhancing international funding and creating an additional pathway for access to medicines.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda specifically:

  • Reaffirms the right of WTO members to take advantage of the flexibilities in the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS); reaffirms that the TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health
  • Urges WTO Members to accept the amendment of the TRIPS Agreement allowing improved access to affordable medicines for developing countries by the deadline of the end of 2015


Latest developments

Compulsory licensing under the flexibilities in the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) have been used to allow generic pharmaceutical producers to use patented technology for the production of cheaper, generic versions of pharmaceuticals. Against this background, some have argued to broaden the discussion of the use “measures necessary to protect public health and nutrition” under TRIPS to consider affordable solutions for malnutrition and access to medical equipment, such as diagnostic, therapeutic, and surgical devices. However, some have argued that since the transfer of know-how not disclosed in a patent application can only be made by concluding voluntary licenses or through reverse engineering, the effectiveness of compulsory licenses in technology transfer is limited to the cases where the technology is already known and only access to it is required. LDCs can take advantage of transitional provisions in the TRIPS Agreement that exempted them from applying all substantive TRIPS standards until 2021, for example, to push the development of their manufacturing capacities. In addition, LDCs benefit from an extended transitional period, until January 1, 2033, with regard to pharmaceutical patents and test data protection for pharmaceutical products (including enforcement procedures and remedies).

(*This update covered in the 2019 Financing for Sustainable Development Report – Science, Technology, Innovation and Capacity Building chapter)

Relevant SDG indicator