health, Trade

For the first time, the three global institutions dealing with health, intellectual property and trade have pooled their expertise on a study of policies needed to advance medical technologies and ensure they reach the people who need them most.

The book, Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections Between Public Health, Intellectual Property and Trade was launched at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva on 5 February, by the heads of the three bodies. Former Swiss President, Ruth Dreifuss, who is also a former Chairperson of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health, chaired the event.

The goal of the study is ambitious, aiming to support governments – particularly in developing countries – that want to increase access to effective treatments while containing costs. A guide for policy-makers, academics and researchers, the book brings together a vast amount of analytical and factual material on medicines, technologies and innovation, in one concise volume.

“Promoting both medical innovation and access to the fruits of that innovation is indispensable for progress towards improved and more equitable health outcomes,” said Dreifuss. World Health Organization Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said the report “sets out a comprehensive and coherent inventory of legal instruments and policy options that can be drawn on to craft measures that meet national public health objectives.”

The purpose of a joint publication is to enhance the global understanding of health, including its trade and intellectual property dimensions, while providing policy-makers with sustainable solutions for effective health policies. The book looks at ways to tailor systems that encourage innovation, yielding new treatments for the diseases of the poor and ensuring sustainable and equitable access to these innovations. It also sets out the international policy framework, as well as the factors shaping that policy.

Much attention is paid to health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases. The evolution of research and development as well as alternative ways of promoting innovation for neglected diseases are also explored. The study demonstrates how the way in which intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks are obtained and managed determines access to medical technologies and innovation. Equally, trade rules (pricing policies, taxes and import duties on medicines, procurement, regulation, technology transfer, compulsory and voluntary licences) can either promote or hinder innovation and access to medicines.

While the study does not prescribe any way to deal with a country's particular health problems, it is a cutting-edge tool for decision-makers to face the evolving worldwide burden of disease. By explaining trade and intellectual property rules and their link to health in a global context to a non-specialist audience, the book unlocks complex global health problems. Ultimately, it delivers solutions to meet objectives such as the right to health and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

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