Ten years ago, on Nov. 14, 2001, the member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) gathered in Doha, Qatar, and adopted a declaration aiming to establish a balance between WTO pharmaceutical patent rules and public health. Patent-based drug monopolies and high prices keep lifesaving medicines out of the hands of millions of people who need them worldwide. WTO rules requiring developing countries to grant pharmaceutical patents have been subject to substantial criticism for favoring the multinational pharmaceutical companies. The Doha Declaration recognized countries’ rights to “promote access to medicines for all” and represented a significant victory for developing countries and global health.
Ever since, health advocates have worked to live up to Doha’s promise. Perhaps the most significant obstacle is the political and economic power of the patent-based pharmaceutical industry. This week marks the Doha Declaration’s 10th anniversary – and people everywhere who care about access to affordable medicines are fighting back.
Over the last 10 years, generic competition has reduced the price of basic HIV/AIDS treatment by 99 percent, from more than $10,000 per person per year to under $100 today. This has facilitated a global revolution in treatment access, with six million people in low and middle income countries on lifesaving medicines as a result.
Nevertheless, newer AIDS medicines are patent-protected, monopolized and vastly more expensive. The same is true of many newer medicines for non-communicable diseases, including cancer and heart disease. High prices force health agencies to make impossible choices about allocating scarce resources – and the global financial crisis has made matters worse. Patients pay the cost.