The fourth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial meeting (i.e., meeting of trade ministers) was held in Doha, Qatar in November 2001. A resulting Declaration stressed that it is important to implement and interpret the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement in a way that supports public health, by promoting both access to existing medicines and the creation of new medicines. An outstanding issue was how to give poor countries that lack manufacturing capacities similar possibilities to other countries for access to essential medicines. The main disagreement lies in defining which health problems the Doha agreement should cover. The original declaration is “supportive of WTO members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all”. Although the Declaration names only HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, it does state that other epidemics “can represent a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency.”
The Declaration further recognizes that each member has the right to determine what constitutes a national emergency and has the freedom to determine on what grounds compulsory licences can be granted.
In summary, the Declaration states that the WTO and its Member States:
- Recognize the gravity of the public health problems afflicting many developing and least-developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, and other epidemics.
- Stress the need for the TRIPS Agreement to be part of the wider national and international action to address these problems.
- Recognize that intellectual property protection is important for the development of new medicines, but are also concerned about its effect on prices.
- Agree that the TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health. Accordingly, while reiterating the commitment to the TRIPS Agreement, it is affirmed that the Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO Members' rights to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.
The failure to reach agreement on implementation of the Doha Declaration has led to widespread concern, particularly among developing countries.