Feature story |

MSF Launches "Revising TRIPS for Public Health": An Ideas Contest

UPDATE (2/11/2011): For details on the conference and to register, visit the site created for the Ideas Conference.

On the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the Doha Declaration, MSF is launching an “Ideas Contest” on how to revise TRIPS so that it genuinely meets global public health needs. Contestants are asked to respond to the following question:

Question: Can TRIPS be reformed to meet public health needs?

  •     If YES, describe your idea for how the treaty should be changed.
  •     If NO, explain why not, and propose an alternative.


Anyone is eligible to submit an entry, either as an individual, a team, and/or on behalf of an institution.  The contest seeks to attract ideas from around the world from creative thinkers who may be academics, students, activists, analysts, government officials, journalists, or from the private sector.  Submissions from low- and middle-income countries are particularly encouraged.


Option 1: A written essay of 500-1000 words (excluding footnotes and references),
Option 2: An audio visual entry: video, audio, slideshow or photofilm of no more than 5 minutes

Submissions should succinctly describe a proposal to change (revise, amend, clarify, re-interpret, re-negotiate, opt-out, discard) the TRIPS Agreement so that it is conducive to global public health.  Entries should be submitted in English, or in any another language along with an English translation.  The submissions may refer to longer descriptions of reform proposals (e.g. articles, proposals, previously published work, etc), but must contain the key arguments for and description of the proposal within the 1000 word/5 minute limit.


A panel of judges will choose the best 4 submissions, based on the following criteria:

  •     Effectiveness in achieving public health objectives
  •     Creativity and originality
  •     Clarity of logic and argumentation
  •     Note: “political feasibility” will not be a criteria, since a key contest objective is to generate unconstrained and creative new thinking


Winners will receive a trip to Geneva  to present their idea on a panel at the Doha + 10 Conference being organized by MSF in November 2011.  The conference is expected to attract attendees from government representatives from developing and industrialized countries, intergovernmental organizations (e.g. WTO, WHO, WIPO), civil society, academia, and the private sector.  (If a team is chosen as a winner, the team should designate one representative to attend the conference.)

MSF will publish and publicize winning entries and shortlisted submissions on its website.  Winning submissions may also be published in a journal (TBD).  All contestants will have the option of having their submission made publicly available in an online archive after the contest ends.


NOTE NEW DEADLINE: Submissions must be received by 8am CET, 17 October 2011.  Winners will be notified by 12 noon CET, 29 October 2011.

For submissions to be considered they must be accompanied by a completed submission form which is to be sent by email to DohaPlusTen(at)paris.msf.org.

» Download a copy of the entry requirements and accepted formats: English, Spanish, Portuguese

» Download a copy of the official entry form: English

» Download an the complete overview of the contest: Spanish, Portuguese


Why is MSF holding an Ideas Contest?

Access to medicines (drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other health technologies) is a critical component of realizing the human right to health.  However, equitable access is threatened when patent and other intellectual property monopolies on medicines allow them to be priced out of reach of those who need them. Progress in science and technological innovation is also impeded when property rights on knowledge block others from using and building on it.

The 1994 World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is a treaty originally negotiated in the late 1980s, and requiring all 153 WTO member countries to provide intellectual property (IP) protection domestically, including making available patents on medicines. When TRIPS first came into force in the mid-1990s, many developing countries had to begin introducing medicines patents for the first time into their national laws. Concerns grew within the public health community that high prices on patented medicines would limit access only to the rich and lucky few.TRIPS was also critiqued for failing to stimulate research & development into the diseases that only affected the poor, since market incentives were insufficient to attract private sector investment.

Civil society organizations mobilized globally to protest the high prices of patented medicines, especially those relating to HIV/AIDS. In response to criticism from civil society, leading developing country governments, and experts, all WTO Member governments agreed in November 2001 to the “Doha Declaration” on TRIPS and Public Health. The Doha Declaration made clear that TRIPS “should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health” and that the TRIPS agreement “should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members’ right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.” The Doha Declaration also unequivocally clarified that countries had the right to make use of flexibilities in TRIPS, such as compulsory licensing, to overcome patent barriers to affordable drugs.  However, ten years after the Doha Declaration, has the promise been kept?

After more than a decade of campaigning for improved access to medicines in developing countries, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is encouraged to see important improvements in access to patented medicines, particularly for drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.  Over 60 countries have made use of TRIPS flexibilities, usually to access lower-cost generic HIV/AIDS medicines. However, the policy space to use these flexibilities is under relentless attack and in some countries has been shrunk by increasingly stringent IP provisions (“TRIPS-plus”) contained in free trade agreements, investment treaties, other binding legal instruments and through trade pressures.  Finally, progress in access to HIV medicines does not necessarily translate into progress for medicines for other diseases. 

In 2011, globally equitable access to medicines is non-existent or at best precarious. Too often in technical debates regarding IP rules, two basic points are forgotten: first, the question of the basic legitimacy and ethical acceptability of a treaty that requires developing countries to provide patent protection on medicines; and second, the fact that TRIPS, like any international treaty, is an agreement between consenting governments that can be re-negotiated.  Indeed, fundamental changes to the global IP system – starting with the TRIPS Agreement itself – are likely to be needed in order to ensure both access to medicines and innovation that meets the health needs of the poor.