The recent meeting of the 59th World Health Assembly in Geneva discussed several approaches for improving access to health care in the developing world, including attacking the perceived problem of patents on crucial medicines like anti-malarials and anti-retrovirals. Some would have us believe that patents on these medicines are little more than vehicles for driving prices artificially high when in fact they are essential for facilitating the complex business deals needed to deliver drugs in the first place.

Patents do not cause drugs to be expensive as much as the high costs of research, development, regulatory approval and distribution do. However, even these commercialization-related costs are not the real barrier for getting drugs delivered to patients in poverty-stricken regions like those in sub-Saharan Africa. Ridiculous taxes, import duties and regulatory barriers are one set of important problems that must, and can, be eliminated immediately. In many cases, taxes and import duties reach well above 50 percent.

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