The urgent need to find a sustainable global solution to the imbalance between intellectual property rights protection and saving lives has been particularly visible in the case of HIV/AIDS.
Since the early 1990's when the TRIPS Agreement was negotiated, the world has changed drastically. A decade ago, no-one anticipated that in 2001, a total of 36 million people worldwide - a vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa - would be infected with HIV.
The example of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for AIDS shows how TRIPS affects poor countries. The fall in ARV prices over the past year (see figure 1 on previous page), achieved through a combination of vigorous generic competition and international public pressure, has brought these "AIDS cocktails" within the reach of a handful of people on the ground, both in MSF's projects and in many developing countries in general.
It has also helped push the global debate on the right to access AIDS treatment. But long-term solutions at an international level are necessary to ensure that these important gains do not vanish. TRIPS cannot stand in the way of protecting public health.
The case of AIDS drug prices also helps illustrate what is to come if all new pharmaceutical products come under patent in 2006, when all WTO members have to implement the TRIPS Agreement. The implications for the majority of the world's population living in developing countries are daunting. If all new medicines are patent protected, like most AIDS medicines now, generic competition will be stamped out.
As a consequence, prices of all new medicines will inevitably shoot up, far beyond the means of patients in need. The lever that has brought the price of AIDS drugs down will be lost.