The impediment allegedly caused by intellectual property rights to the access to essential medicines by the poor in developing countries has been a subject of raging controversy since the finalisation of the agreement in the World Trade Organisation on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in April 1994. This paper aims to examine whether or not it is true that the provisions of TRIPS impede access to essential medicines.

The author (who was responsible for TRIPS negotiations in the Uruguay Round from 1989-91) supports the view that TRIPS could lead to higher prices for patented medicines, including for important diseases such as HIV/AIDS. But she argues that policy instruments available under TRIPS — such as compulsory licensus, parallel imports, or price controls — if designed with care, could attenuate such adverse effects on the affordable access to essential medicines.