New Study Urges Egyptian Government to Use TRIPS Flexibilities to Protect People's Right to Health

Press Release

11 January 2005

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) urged the Egyptian government today to give priority to the protection of citizens’ right to health during its implementation of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The EIPR recommended that the government uses all flexibilities inherent in the TRIPS agreement such as compulsory licensing to manufacture medicines locally and parallel importation of medicines to ensure the people’s economic access to essential drugs.

A policy paper published today by the EIPR’s Health and Human Rights Program and entitled “The TRIPS Agreement and Egypt’s Responsibility to Protect the Right to Health,” analyzes the expected impact of the TRIPS agreement on Egypt’s ability to fulfill its duty to protect the right to health of citizens according to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The document also offers a rights-based overview of the rules stipulated by the agreement concerning drug patents, and a similar analysis to the Egyptian Intellectual Property law and its Executive Statutes.

The policy paper aims at raising the public awareness of the different aspects of the TRIPS and its effects on the right to health in light of the clear lack of information provided by the government on the issue, and its failure to involve civil society and the public in consultations for planning the phase after the agreement's entry into force.

The TRIPS agreement, which came into force in Egypt on 1 January 2005, protects drug patents for a period of 20 years of filing the patent request. Egypt will be obliged to protect the patents of drugs whose term has not yet expired as well as drugs that will be developed and registered in the future. The strict protection of drug patents results inevitably in a sharp rise in drug prices especially in developing countries, which would consequently hamper people’s access to essential medicines in violation of their right to health.

“People's health should come before the profits of large pharmaceutical companies. The Egyptian government has a legal obligation to take immediate, practical steps to avoid the adverse effect of the TRIPS on access to essential medicines in Egypt," Aya El-Hilaly, EIPR's Health and Human Rights Program Officer, said today. Such measures should include the establishment of the Medicine Subsidy Fund, stipulated in the Intellectual Property Law; issuing compulsory licenses to manufacture medicines that are unavailable in the local market or available at excessively high prices; and the parallel importation of medicines which, although not mentioned explicitly in the Egyptian Intellectual Property Law, is permissible under the TRIPS.