New steps ease access for more affordable medicines


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has played a pivotal role in the Asia-Pacific region in addressing the needs of national governments to secure access for their citizens to affordable medicines.

Recent years have seen increases in intellectual property protection and enforcement measures in free trade and investment agreements that go beyond the level required by the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) administered by the World Trade Organization. These developments threaten efforts by countries in the region to achieve effective, sustainable and affordable universal health coverage. They also hamper responses to rapidly growing epidemics of chronic non-communicable diseases like cancer and cardio-vascular disease.


  • In Myanmar, important legal provisions added to new draft IP law to ensure access to affordable essential medicines and greater public participation in IP rights decisions.
  • In Cambodia, technical support provided to the drafting of a law on compulsory licensing and public health to enable the government to issue compulsory licenses to secure affordable lifesaving medicines.
  • National working groups set up or in process in Myanmar and Indonesia.

Through partnerships with UNDP, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly becoming aware of the various human development impacts of intellectual property rights in the context of international trade and the legal options available to them. With this growing awareness they are taking action to claim their right to health as articulated by the WTO Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.

“Access to affordable HIV medicines is more than just a trade, legal or logistical issue. It is literally a matter of life and death for people living with HIV,” said Shiba Phurailatpam of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV (APN+). “Millions of people need access to treatment, today, to keep them alive. Collective efforts from all sectors and taking advantage of all opportunities are critical.”

At a September 2013 experts meeting on advancing access to HIV treatment, Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, stated, “While intellectual property protections are intended to provide an incentive for innovation, the evidence shows that excessive protection hinders access to affordable HIV treatment and other essential medicines… Access to affordable, quality-assured pharmaceutical products remains an urgent priority for achieving the MDGs and improving health and development outcomes for poor and marginalized populations.“

In close cooperation with UNAIDS and key stakeholders, UNDP has undertaken a series of initiatives in the region to strengthen the capacity of national legislators, government officials and civil society on critical issues, which include for example:

•  Advocacy in support of public health-sensitive reforms of intellectual property legislation, and adoption of measures that adequately address the need for affordable, accessible, safe and effective medicines;

•  South-South learning on government use of compulsory licensing for the production and importation of affordable generic versions of medicines;

•  Capacity building of community-based organizations to support their engagement in policy discussions on intellectual property rights, TRIPS and access to medicines; and

•  Knowledge development in the field of intellectual property rights and access to treatment.

The initiatives have had a considerable impact.

In Myanmar, close collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology has resulted in important legal provisions being incorporated into a new draft intellectual property law in 2013. These provisions will enhance legislative power to ensure access to affordable essential medicines and enable greater public participation in intellectual property rights decisions – decisions that directly affect the lives of millions of Myanmar people.

Dr. Moe Moe Thwe, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Myanmar who is overseeing the development of Myanmar’s first patent law, stated, “Support from UNDP has helped us to ensure that our intellectual property law preserves policy space to protect our country’s right to affordable lifesaving medicines in line with international agreements.” In October 2013, upon request from the government, UNDP organized an information session to inform parliamentarians of potential impacts of trade, TRIPS and IP laws on access to affordable medicines in Myanmar.

In Cambodia, technical support was provided to the Ministry of Health in the drafting of a law on compulsory licensing and public health which will enable the government to issue compulsory licenses to secure affordable lifesaving medicines. The draft law has been finalized in mid-2013 and will be submitted to the Council of Ministers for review.

A national working group on intellectual property rights, TRIPS and access to affordable medicines was established in Myanmar in 2012, and a similar structure is being formed in Indonesia in 2013. These working groups offer a means of inclusive discussion amongst a range of stakeholders and contribute to the development of effective, equitable and sustainable public health responses. In Indonesia, inputs from the national working group will feed into the preparations for the Universal Health Coverage scheme, launching in January 2014.

Related Links:
Issue brief: TRIPs transition period extensions for least-developed countries (UNDP, UNAIDS, 2013)
Issue brief: The potential impact of free trade agreements on public health (UNDP, UNAIDS, 2012)
Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Affordable ARVs in China (UNDP, 2013)
Policy brief: Using TRIPS flexibilities to improve access to HIV treatment (UNDP, UNAIDS, WHO, 2011) 
Myanmar Parliamentarians explore the country’s right to access affordable medicines 
Experts meet on advancing access to HIV treatment
UNAIDS and UNDP back proposal to allow least-developed countries to maintain and scale up access to essential medicines
Asian countries chart new courses on intellectual property and trade to increase access to AIDS treatment
Greater Collaboration Between Health and Trade Sectors - Part of Pacific's Response to NCDs Crisis

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