10 October 2022

Intellectual property laws can affect access to medicines or medical equipment, which has consequences for global health. At a symposium, researchers, students and organisations gathered to share knowledge about the problems that arise at the intersection between intellectual property and global health.

“This is an urgent but longstanding issue in international politics and human rights” says Marc Stuhldreier, postdoctoral researcher at Linköping University and one of the organisers.

At the symposium, which was held September 12 to 13 2022 in Norrköping, various issues related to intellectual property, global health and human rights were raised. How do pharmaceutical patents and exclusive rights impact access to medicine? Do communities most in need get access to the scientific progress in the health sector? And how can a UN committee work as a global body for the protection of health and human rights?A man standing behind a podium, talking. Behind him shows a presentation on a large screen.Emmanuel Kolawole Oke, Edinburgh Law School, addressed, among other issues, the local production of medicines.

How intellectual property rights have affected the accessibility of medicines, medical equipment and progress has been debated for a long time, and especially since the introduction of the WTO TRIPS Agreement in 1995. It meant that particularly developing countries struggled with ensuring access to medicines.

“The problems were addressed in countless debates in academia and international forums. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has shown that these debates were rather fruitless. Even in a global, pandemic attempts at improving the situation for developing countries were blocked by industrialised nations”, Marc Stuhldreier says.

The Covid-19 pandemic was raised by one of the speakers. Fatima Hassan, representing the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, elaborated why intellectual property laws are barriers to saving lives in a pandemic.

Presenters were also addressing the tragedy of war, and how the suffering of civil society may be further worsened by intellectual property protection and secrecy. Olga Gurgula, of Brunel University, spoke about Russia's war in Ukraine and how access to essential medicine is affected.

The keynote speaker, the University of Leeds Professor Graham Dutfield’s presentation concerned the international debate on indigenous rights today and that it is focused on intellectual property while there are several other obstacles faced by indigenous communities.

Academics from several universities, students from the bachelor programme in Global Studies at Linköping University, non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations attended the symposium.

“The main aims were to provide an interdisciplinary forum and a platform for networking, as well as platform for the dissemination of knowledge”, Marc Stuhldreier says.

The symposium was organised by Marc Stuhldreier and Martin Fredriksson of Linköping University. It was supported by the Department of Culture and Society at Linköping University and the ERC funded project PASSIM (Patents as Scientific Information), with further funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

Read more on PASSIM's blog.

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