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The World Health Organization recently released a report (also covered in the Financial Times) urging governments and pharmaceutical companies to weaken patent protection on essential medicines to ensure access to those in the developing world who need them.

But is the patent system really the source of the problem that effectively denies those who need drugs from receiving them? As it stands, the WTO TRIPs Council ruled in the December Hong Kong Ministerial that it would allow countries with no domestic production capacity and an HIV/AIDS crisis to import generic ARVs. So, there is flexibility within the trade and IP regime to find a solution to the access problem.

While the report highlights the importance of patents to public health and development, it stops short of advocating for a practical solution to the essential medicines problem. But as Owen Barder similarly discussed, the Commission’s report does not consider which policy solution most effectively balances the interests of users and producers of pharmaceuticals, which may be a more salient concern.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.