Welcome to the United Nations

Access to affordable medicines

A global aim is to provide access to affordable medicines on a sustainable basis in developing countries. The past decade has seen a strong policy emphasis on public health and access to medicines in the WTO, including making needed medicines available − especially anti-retroviral drugs to combat HIV/AIDS − at lower prices, enhancing international funding and creating an additional pathway for access to medicines.

TRIPS Protocol

On 6 December 2005, WTO Members approved a Protocol that proposed an amendment to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) to make it easier for poorer countries to obtain cheaper generic versions of patented medicines. The amendment sets aside a provision of the TRIPS Agreement that could otherwise limit exports of pharmaceuticals manufactured under compulsory licenses to countries that are unable to produce them.

For the amendment to enter into force, acceptance by two thirds of WTO Members was required. The amendment to the Agreement entered into force on 23 January 2017, when the two thirds threshold was reached.

119 WTO-members have accepted the protocol amending the TRIPS agreement. The figure shows that all Member States from developed states, about two third of middle income countries have accepted the protocol, compared with half of the other country groupings (LDCs, SIDS and LLDCs).

An overview of measures taken by individual Members to implement flexibilities can be found on WIPO's database



Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines
In November 2015, United Nations Secretary-General announced the appointment of a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. UNDP served as the Secretariat for the High-Level Panel in partnership with the UNAIDS Secretariat. Following a process of extensive consultation involving UN Member States, civil society, the private sector and members of academia, the Panel released its report in September 2016. The report has a simple and powerful message: no one should suffer because he or she can’t afford medicines, diagnostics or vaccines. Some of the key recommendations include the following:
  • Governments and the private sector must refrain from explicit or implicit threats, tactics or strategies that undermine the right of WTO members to use TRIPS flexibilities. WTO members must register complaints against undue political and economic pressure, and take punitive measures against offending members; 
  • Governments must urgently increase their current levels of investment in health technology innovation to meet unmet needs and enter into negotiations for a binding Research & Development treaty that delinks the costs of innovation from the end prices of health technologies in order to address unmet health needs;
  • There must be much greater transparency to ensure that the costs of research and development, production, marketing, and distribution, as well as the end prices of health technologies are clear to consumers and governments; 
  • The Secretary-General should establish an independent review body tasked with assessing progress on health technology innovation and access and call for a High-Level meeting on Health Technology Innovation and Access to be convened by 2018.
  • The report has been welcomed by the Secretary-General, several UN Member States and civil society groups and was included in a resolution of the UNGA in December 2016 as well as a 2016 resolution of the Human Rights Council. The Report’s recommendations are being further discussed at the Human Rights Council, WHO, WTO and WIPO.