Bioethics Forum

Patent Protection and the Human Right to Health – a Contradiction? Access to Essential Medicines in Developing and Emerging Countries

Café Moskau, Karl-Marx-Allee 34, 10178 Berlin

Diskussion mit dem Publikum, Deutscher Ethikrat, Fotograf: Reiner Zensen


Serious infectious diseases, which occur primarily in developing and threshold countries, account for a total of ten per cent of the global distribution of diseases.

Pharmaceutical companies often focus on research into drugs that can be marketed profitably in industrialised countries. Patent protection on drugs can serve as an incentive to develop new active substances. However, new essential and life-saving drugs are hardly affordable for the people and healthcare systems in developing and emerging countries. For them, access to drugs is blocked and health is becoming a cost issue.

The German Ethics Council addresses the tension between the human right to health and patent protection as an instrument to encourage the development of drugs. It first will examine this issue from an ethical and international law perspective and then discuss the following questions with representatives from politics, non-governmental organisations and pharmaceutical companies:

  • Are patents necessary to safeguard drug development?
  • How can medicines be made available for all people, taking into account the human right to health and patent protection?
  • What responsibility do pharmaceutical companies, individual states and intergovernmental organisations have to provide essential medicines in developing and threshold countries?
  • What opportunities exist in the Federal Republic of Germany to work towards the development of medicines for developing countries within the framework of publicly funded health research?