[Ip-health] Guardian: How the war on fake drugs risks harming the poor

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Feb 2 07:13:01 PST 2011

Sarah Boseley's Global Health Blog

Wednesday 2 February 2011


How the war on fake drugs risks harming the poor
A new Oxfam report warns that the strategy against counterfeit  
medicines suits the interests of big pharma and rich countries, but  
will not safeguard the poor against fake and sub-standard drugs, and  
could hinder their access to cheap quality medicines

There is a lot of talk about the dangers of counterfeit medicines  
these days and, indeed, counterfeit drugs are dangerous things. But,  
says Oxfam in a new report today, the war on fake drugs in the  
developing world is being waged in a way that may suit the big  
pharmaceutical companies but poses very grave dangers to the health of  
the poor.
Fake drugs and sub-standard drugs, such as antibiotics with too little  
of the active ingredient to do any good, are sold all over the  
developing world. They can do real harm, but the strategy against  
counterfeits will not stop much of that trade, according to Oxfam,  
because its focus is to strengthen the patent system. Patents prevent  
legal copies of new drugs from being made for a period of up to 20  
years - but many of the fake and sub-standard drugs going around in  
Africa and Asia are not in patent anyhow.

Oxfam says rich countries, which are pushing for stronger patents in  
the interest of the pharmaceutical companies which contribute to their  
GDP, should instead be helping poor countries to strengthen their drug  
regulatory and policing systems. This is how Rohit Malpani, senior  
policy adviser, puts it:

Poor countries are facing a crisis of substandard and falsified  
medicines that can harm or even kill those who take them. Yet rather  
than help poor countries address the problem to ensure safe, effective  
and quality medicines for all, rich countries are putting commercial  
interests ahead of public health in these countries.

The European Union and the United States continue to focus almost  
exclusively on eliminating counterfeit medicines which form only a  
small part of this public health problem – but which are a serious  
concern for their multinational companies. They have used the crisis  
in medicine quality in developing countries as an excuse to push for  
new intellectual property rules that will boost the profits of  
pharmaceutical giants at the expense of affordable medicines for the  

Oxfam is particularly critical of the European Union, but also of the  
World Health Organisation. There is confusion between counterfeits and  
generics - legally-made, cheap copies of medicines that, particularly  
in the case of Aids drugs, have saved lives in the developing world. A  
WHO-led initiative called IMPACT (International Medical Products Anti- 
Counterfeiting Taskforce) is unclear on the difference between them.  
The report says:

IMPACT proposes an expansive definition of counterfeit medicines that  
confuses conterfeits and generic medicines, and over-emphasises police  
action to ensure the safety and efficacy of medicines.

At the same time, the multinational pharmaceutical industry has  
exerted pressure on individual countries, such as Kenya and Thailand,  
to change their national laws and law enforcement priorities in ways  
that endanger access to generic medicines.

Generic medicines are vital to the health of the poor. Enforcing  
patents, in a way that might restrict their manufacture, will do more  
harm than good, says Oxfam. Instead, developing countries should be  
helped to strengthen their own monitoring and regulation so that the  
drugs their citizens use are safe and effective.


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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