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Access to essential medicines is a human right which is currently compromised by the high prices charged by pharmaceutical corporations, which are facilitated by the global protection afforded to pharmaceutical patents by Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). However, pharmaceutical patents are arguably justified as they promote research and development (R&D) in the industry. The arguments for and against patents are herein examined, along with the salient human rights duties of pharmaceutical companies and governments, as well as recent victories in the battle for access to essential drugs in the developing world. Alternative strategies for facilitating access to essential medicines, without compromising research and development (R&D), are put forward.