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WTO Agreement on Drug Patents

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This is the VOA SpecialEnglish Development Report.

Developing countries won a major victory at the World TradeOrganization meeting earlier this month in Doha, Qatar. The battlewas over the rights of poor nations to produce life-saving drugsduring health emergencies.

More than one-hundred-forty countries attended the Dohaconference. The group finally reached an agreement after more than aweek of debate. It permits developing countries to give so-called"compulsory licenses" during national health emergencies. Acompulsory license requires drug manufacturers to share theirinventions with competing companies.

When a drug company develops a cure or treatment for a disease,it seeks special rights to make and sell the product. This specialpermission is called a patent. A patent prevents other companiesfrom making the same drug for a number of years while the patent isin force.

Under compulsory licenses, other companies are permitted toproduce low-cost generic drugs. These are copies of costly medicinespatented by large drug companies.

In the past, a lack of understanding existed over the rights ofdeveloping countries to give compulsory licenses. However, thisissue was settled by the Doha agreement. Developing countries arenow able to give compulsory licenses when dealing with public healthcrises. These include AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and diseaseslikely to spread quickly through the population.

p>Poor countries are not able to pay for costly drugs to treatdiseases such as AIDS. So the debate over drug patents is betweenrich and poor countries. International drug companies in Europe andthe United States oppose the Doha agreement. They say it willprevent drug companies from seeking cures for diseases that affectthe poor. Drug companies say they are forced to charge high pricesfor medicines to pay for the high cost of their research. Drugpatents are important because they help companies recover moneyspent developing new medicines.

Developing countries, such as India, Brazil and South Africa,support the Doha agreement. They say poor nations should be able toproduce or import less costly generic drugs in times of healthcrises. They say the goal is to reduce the cost of drugs to treatdiseases that kill millions of poor people every year.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by JillMoss.


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