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Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organisation, has told ministers at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit currently taking place in Qatar, that they must tackle seriously the issue of intellectual property and access to medicines.

In a statement on 9 November, she said that the Doha ministerial conference provided a “historic opportunity” for WTO members to ensure that the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, acceptance of which is one of the conditions of WTO membership, “does not stand in the way of access to life-saving medicines, especially in the poorest countries.”

She added that all WTO members should use the flexibility that exists in the TRIPS agreement when developing their public health policies, while acknowledging that intellectual property legislation is necessary to promote innovation in tackling diseases that drive poverty.

“The stakes are high”, she said. “The lives and well-being of millions will be affected as a result of WTO members reconciling their divergent views and positions”.

Meanwhile Oxfam, together with Health Gap Coalition and the Third World Network, presented a petition of over 30,000 signatures supporting their ‘Cut the Cost’ campaign to Mike Moore, Director General of the WTO. The campaign urges WTO members to demonstrate their commitment to put health before wealth by changing and clarifying global patent rules.

“TRIPS and public health could be the deal that makes or breaks the Doha meeting”, said Michael Bailey, senior policy advisor at Oxfam UK.

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