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President Clinton Announces New Cooperative Effort to Help Poor Countries Gain Access to Affordable Medicines, Including for HIV/AIDS Treatment, December 1, 1999

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The Briefing Room


December 1, 1999

The President today announced that the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will develop a cooperative approach on health-related intellectual property matters consistent with our goal of helping poor countries gain access to affordable medicines. Through this approach, we will ensure the application of U.S. trade law related to intellectual property, such as Special 301, remains sufficiently flexible to respond to legitimate public health crises. President Clinton also called upon our trading partners to join him in this effort. The United States will continue to work with its partner nations, multilateral organizations, industry, and affected communities to improve access to medical treatment.

Poor countries face special challenges providing adequate public health care and gaining access to affordable medicines, including those needed to treat diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

  • Under this new arrangement, there will be a more direct interaction between USTR and HHS on health-related intellectual property issues.

  • When a foreign government expresses concern that U.S. trade law related to intellectual property significantly impedes its ability to address a health crisis, USTR will seek substantive information from HHS on the health conditions prevailing in that country.

  • This will enable USTR to ensure that the application of U.S. trade law related to intellectual property, consistent with international trade treaties, is sufficiently flexible to respond to public health crises.

The challenge of improving access to treatments without stifling innovation is one that eludes simple answers. A modern patent system helps promote the rapid innovation, development, and commercialization of effective and safe drug therapies for diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Sound public health policy and intellectual property protection are, and must continue to be, mutually supportive. The WTO Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) allows the flexibility for all WTO Members to respond to public health crises.

As a related policy objective, we continue to assist developing countries create the public health infrastructure that will allow treatments to be utilized effectively. Treating diseases effectively requires that developing countries not only make adequate investment in prevention efforts, clinics and medical equipment, but continuous monitoring of treatments to ensure that no contamination occurs and that medicines are administered at the time and with the appropriate dosage. Without such infrastructure, there is significant risk that pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics and HIV drugs, may not be administered to patients correctly.

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