[A2k] Financial Times: Athens urged to import generic drugs

Thirukumaran Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Mar 18 05:57:04 PDT 2013


March 17, 2013 10:29 pm
Athens urged to import generic drugs
By Andrew Jack in London and Kerin Hope in Athens

Public health advocates are petitioning the Greek government to overturn patent protection on costly medicines and import them from low-cost generic producers to ease the burden on the country’s medical system.

Essential Inventions, a US-based lobby group, has asked Andreas Lykourentzos, Greece’s health minister, to use article 14 of the country’s patent law, which permits the use of compulsory licences authorising cheaper versions in exchange for a modest royalty to the patent holders.

The group says it can then negotiate with cheaper suppliers in India, Canada and elsewhere to provide sources for drugs such as those for cancer and HIV at typically 1-10 per cent of the current European price.
Such a change would mark an escalation of efforts its advisers have made in India, Thailand and elsewhere to invoke concessions in the World Trade Organisation rules to override intellectual property rules on public health grounds.

David Hammerstein, a health advocate and member of Essential Inventions’ board, said: “We can’t have a situation where people suffering because of the financial crisis are worse off within Europe than outside.”

The action comes as Greek patients complain about difficulties in obtaining affordable healthcare as the country struggles to meet austerity measures to overcome its budget crisis.

SFEE, the pharmaceutical industry trade body, warned last week that the system was “at breaking point” and that some vital medicines might not be available after repeated failures of the government to pay €2bn in outstanding debts, leaving some companies at risk of collapse.

Essential Inventions says its proposal is simpler than attempting to negotiate price discounts with patent holders, which are concerned that any reductions will be followed elsewhere in Europe or trigger “parallel trade” of the cheaper medicines out of Greece and into more expensive EU markets. If the authorities refuse, it will lobby civil society groups and threaten to sue the ministry.

Mr Lykourentzos is being pressed by Greece’s international creditors to implement more cuts, fuelling fears of a drugs shortage, especially of medicines to treat cancer and HIV/Aids.

Scores of Greek wholesalers and about 700 pharmacies nationwide have been accused by the health ministry of increasing exports at the expense of local patients. Some have claimed they have no option because of long delays in being paid for supplying the state health system, Eoppy. “The system is in a state of near-collapse and we have to find cash where we can,” said Amvrosios Argyris, a pharmacist.

Patients complain of shortages of drugs that used to be available from state pharmacies and hospitals free of charge. Amalia Stefanou, a neurological patient, said: “I have to ring round different pharmacies to check whether my prescription is available. Then I pay the full amount without knowing when I’ll be reimbursed [by Eoppy].”

Greek authorities said this month they had forbidden parallel export of drugs while threatening to fine drug companies not providing their products.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)

thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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