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24 January 2017Africa

WTO amends TRIPS to ease poor countries’ access to medicine

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has amended its intellectual property rules to make it easier for poor countries to access affordable medicines.

The amendment, which entered into force yesterday, January 23, became official after the WTO secretariat received notification from five members that they ratified the protocol amending the WTO TRIPS agreement.

Notifications from the five member states, which are Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Liechtenstein, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam, were needed to reach the requirement of the two-thirds threshold.

Roberto Azevêdo, WTO director-general, said: “This is an extremely important amendment. It gives legal certainty that generic medicines can be exported at reasonable prices to satisfy the needs of countries with no pharmaceutical production capacity, or those with limited capacity.”

He added: “By doing so, it helps the most vulnerable access the drugs that meet their needs, helping to deal with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, as well as other epidemics. I am delighted that WTO members have now followed through on their commitment and brought this important measure into force.”

The amendment allows poorer WTO members to have more access to affordable generic medicines produced in other countries. It allows exporting countries to grant compulsory licences to generic suppliers exclusively for the purpose of manufacturing and exporting needed medicines to the poorer countries.

Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s foreign minister, who chaired the WTO General Council when the amendment was approved in December 2005, said following the latest announcement: “As important as trade policy is, health and well-being must take precedence.”

She added that WTO members recognise this and have proven how seriously they take health issues by ratifying the amendment.

According to a statement released by the WTO, the amendment will provide a secure and sustained legal basis for potential exporte rs and importers to adopt legislation.

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