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One-third of all human lives end in early death from poverty-related causes. Most of these premature deaths are avoidable through global institutional reforms that would eradicate extreme poverty. Many are also avoidable through global health-system reform that would make medical knowledge freely available as a global public good. The rules should be redesigned so that the development of any new drug is rewarded in proportion to its impact on the global disease burden (not through monopoly rents). This reform would bring drug prices down worldwide close to their marginal cost of production and would powerfully stimulate pharmaceutical research into currently neglected diseases concentrated among the poor. Its feasibility shows that the existing medical-patent regime (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—TRIPS—as supplemented by bilateral agreements) is severely unjust—and its imposition a human-rights violation on account of the avoidable mortality and morbidity it foreseeably produces.

Keywords: TRIPS; diseases; drugs; health; human rights; incentives; justice; medicine; patents; pharmaceutical research; poverty; public goods

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Australian National University, LPO Box 8260, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia , Email:

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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