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Improving access to novel COVID-19 treatments 11 April 2023 Departmental news Reading time: 2 min (459 words)

Launch of Member States briefing on how to navigate interfaces between public health and intellectual property.


The World Health Organization together with Unitaid and with the support of Medicines Law & Policy, have today published a briefing document to support country access to affordable COVID-19 treatments. 

This briefing document is a factual explanation of some of the legal instruments that WHO Member States can use to promote public health and access to COVID 19 therapeutics in the framework of their multilateral trade obligations and rights, and according to their national legislation and level of development.  It is intended to support countries dealing with challenges at the intersection of public health and intellectual property, to increase access to novel COVID-19 therapeutics and to facilitate alternative and more affordable sourcing of such treatments, where possible. 

Member States should use all tools available to them and this briefing documents clearly spells out what those are including voluntary licenses to overcome intellectual property barriers. Countries that are not covered by voluntary licenses are encouraged to use to the full flexibilities under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. 

WHO Assistant Director-General, Prof. Hanan Balkhy said, “I urge Member States to implement all the available tools they have to make local production possible and to improve access. This includes licenses for access, the use of TRIPS flexibilities and the implementation of the WTO TRIPS decision. WHO will continue providing technical assistance on how to make use of these instruments.” 

Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of Unitaid added “It is crucial to prioritize the availability and accessibility of essential health technologies worldwide. By harnessing all tools at our disposal, we can increase access to essential health products and, ultimately, save more lives. At Unitaid, we remain committed to working with our partners to explore all solutions that will enable us to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic and build a more resilient health system for the future.”

The briefing document contains background information and resources on the therapeutics landscape and WHO recommendations (Section 2); an overview of the Medicines Patent Pool licenses for oral antivirals and the implications for country access (Section 3); the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (Section 4); other licenses relevant to COVID-19 therapeutics (Section 5); and guidance on the use of TRIPS flexibilities (Section 6). 

Existing voluntary licenses for novel COVID-19 treatments do not include many middle-income countries hence they cannot benefit from affordable generic versions of therapeutics recommended by WHO. WHO calls on technology holders to expand the geographic scope of these licenses to allow competition and price reductions so that these important treatments can be used where they are needed the most.  

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