There seems to be quite a few protests of India’s passage this week of a new patent law that prevents domestic drug companies from making low-cost generics of expensive Western medicines, saying millions of poor people across the world will be affected.

The changes in patent rights come from India’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which requires India to enforce stricter patent rules for its pharmaceutical industry. Groups like Oxfam seem to think that the problem lies with the TRIPS agreement (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) and that it should be reformed. Under TRIPS, India had to introduce amendments to its existing patent act by January 1, 2005. Unfortunately, the Indian government waited until the very last minute and then had to rush it through the parliament.

International aid groups believe the new law will limit the supply of cheap generic drugs to impoverished nations, threatening the survival of AIDS and cancer patients – when almost 50 percent of 700,000 HIV patients taking antiretroviral medicines in Africa, Asia and Latin America rely on low-cost drugs from India. A month’s dose of a generic AIDS drug cocktail costs US$30, or 5 percent of similar drugs sold by Western producers.

There were some last minute amendments were to tighten the definition of “new inventions” to prevent drug companies from winning new patents by making minor changes to existing drugs. The law also allows patents to be challenged even before they are granted. On the other hand, the bill says the government’s ability to override patents requires a wait of at least three years before this is allowed, except in a national emergency.

Amazingly, even though India has some 5.1 million HIV-infected people (the second largest number after South Africa) it is NOT seen as a national emergency(!).

The issue does not seem to be one of patents or drug company profits (whether the drug company in question is located in the West or in a developing nation). The issue is really one of how can affordable health care be provided to those who need it and who should pay for that care if they cannot? The answer can’t be to place the entire burden on drug companies who then shift the cost to countries paying full freight. Instead, all wealthier developed nations need to step up and provide financial assistance to bring the costs down for those in need.

Then someday, just maybe, a drug company will have the resources to finally discover a cure.

Resources: the World Health Organization.

More here.

  Print This Post Print This Post  

Comments are closed.