[Ip-health] All eyes on Obama's healthcare resolve

Kajal Bhardwaj k0b0 at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 10 10:01:00 PST 2010

All eyes on Obama's healthcare resolve 
Today's statements in the Capital hold the key.  
P.T. Jyothi Datta
Mumbai, Nov. 7
From interacting with top corporate honchos, to dancing with school students, to 
addressing members of Parliament in the Central Hall – it's all just another day 
at work for the US President, Mr Barack Obama.
And while everything he speaks and does get dissected across geographies and 
blogospheres – the unsaid symbolisms too are providing fodder for various 
stake-holder groups. And healthcare is one such sector, where people are trying 
to second guess Mr Obama's stance on affordable healthcare, and whether he is 
under pressure to change.
The US President, in his key-note address at the United States India Business 
Council (USIBC) event, deftly side-stepped potential minefields like the 
anti-outsourcing sentiment in the US.
But the absence of key statements on intellectual property protection and 
partnerships for affordable healthcare have public-health workers concerned – 
will trade-related IP discussions come up at Mr Obama's political meetings in 
Elaborating on the reason why they worry, US-based Health GAP (Global Access 
Project) says: Mr Obama had made a written promise as candidate for president, 
pledging to support the rights of sovereign nations to access quality-assured, 
low-cost generic medication to meet their pressing public health needs under the 
World Trade Organisation agreement.
“Rubbing shoulders with the USIBC is the latest sign that he is breaking that 
promise,” they add.
The advocacy group's mistrust of USIBC stems from the industry body's position 
in IP-related discussions, on issues such as compulsory licensing (CL) and the 
scope of patentability, for instance.
While patents allow a patent-holder exclusive monopoly on the product for 20 
years, a CL allows governments to break the patent and allow a third party to 
make the same medicine. The USIBC's view is that a CL be used only in extreme 
emergencies, but public-health advocators recommend its use in public interest.
In fact, that Mr Obama was going to address the USIBC itself had raised 
eye-brows in some circles, since the industry body's parent chamber in the US 
had been in an open spat with the Obama administration, for allegedly 
channelling overseas funds into anti-Democrat campaigns.
Nevertheless, Health GAP says, when the US President addresses the USIBC, he 
speaks to the most powerful representatives of Big Pharma – including Abbott, 
Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and others.
The high price of medicines from big pharmaceutical companies has often caused 
Governments to come down on them, forcing law-makers to lean towards 
less-expensive generic versions of innovative drugs. And that further incites 
the mistrust between big pharma and generic drug-makers.
Lost game
But an Indian head of a multinational drug-company, who was at the USIBC 
meeting, points out, the US President's delegation did not comprise major 
pharmaceutical company representatives. And that tells a tale.
Coming to India, would be for research, and would require investment. And as far 
as IP protection is concerned, “we have already lost that game,” he says, 
reflecting the unhappiness of multinational companies on several of their 
unresolved IP concerns.
With the US President having spearheaded US healthcare reforms recently – his 
meetings in the Capital on Monday will be closely watched for statements and 
unsaid signals on balancing the act between IP and affordable healthcare.


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