[Ip-health] Challenging monopoly rights of pharmaceutical companies, targeting R&D towards priority needs, and promoting wider access to affordable generic drugs is crucial to establish a universal right to health.

Pauline Londeix pauline.londeix at gmail.com
Sun Feb 19 09:39:51 PST 2012


Challenging monopoly rights of pharmaceutical companies, targeting R&D
towards priority needs, and promoting wider access to affordable generic
drugs is crucial to establish a universal right to health.

Act Up Basel acts to promote universal access to affordable medicines of
assured quality. Whether it is the developed world or developing countries,
access to treatment and care is an issue that concerns each one of us.

>From major pandemics (tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria), to neglected
diseases (chagas, sleeping sickness, etc.), to chronic diseases (cancers,
diabetes, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular or neurological), many
people through the world spend disproportionate amounts to access expensive
treatment and care. Research for rare diseases (genetic disorders or
"tropical") is neglected by big pharmaceutical companies and often whole
populations are ignored because they do not constitute markets profitable
enough for the pharmaceutical industry to pay attention to. .

In developing countries the cost of newer products with proven advantage
over older medicines, such as antiretroviral, medicines for tuberculosis
and new anti-malarial treatment, severely hampers access to medicines for
the poorest populations while pushing those in higher income brackets
closer to poverty due to exorbitantly priced medicines. Moreover, up to 90%
of the population in low and middle-income countries must pay for medicines
out of pocket due to lack of social insurance and inadequate publicly
subsidized services. Not only are medicines unaffordable for large sectors
of the population, they are a major burden on government budgets.

Even in developed countries, health expenditures have increased
dramatically due to aging populations that need extensive and long-term
care. For all of us, health expenditures continue to increase and take a
major part of each individual’s income. Still, for the most vulnerable
populations, it is virtually impossible to access treatment. Although
health insurance is still available in most rich countries, heavy
expenditure on drugs are increasing costs and threatening sustainability.
Yet the high cost of medicines is not being questioned. Drug prices are
rarely negotiated with big pharmaceutical companies and those same
companies use multiple strategies to delay introduction low-cost generics.
Developed country governments that do adopt measures to control the high
prices of patented medicines (for instance through price negotiations or
pharmaceutical reimbursement schemes) are facing pressures to weaken these
schemes through free trade agreement negotiations.

The price of medicines is high mainly because patent and data rights allow
major pharmaceutical companies to prevent generic competition and to charge
profit-maximizing prices far in excess of the true cost of the medicine.
Questioning pharmaceutical companies on their exclusive patent and data
rights and promoting the wider use of generic drugs are crucial to
establish a universal right to health.

In addition, access issues and drug prices cannot be fully addressed
without also questioning the funding of research and its orientation
towards maximizing profits – marketing blockbusters – rather than targeting
unmet medical needs. Today, there is a need to align research goals of the
pharmaceutical companies to meet the challenges of public health in the
changing environment of growing funding crisis, aging populations,
neglected diseases, and changing lifestyles instead of looking at
perpetuating patent and data monopolies.

While campaigning against the strategies of pharmaceutical companies and
their shareholders to curb the flow of affordable and quality generic drugs
in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and Washington DC, or in developing countries
across Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and even Africa, Act Up Basel
raises awareness among people and advocates with law and policy makers to
take measures to lower the prices of medicines, ensure early entry of
generics and to force the pharmaceutical industry to review its research
and development plans and reorient its pricing and licensing policies to
provide universal access to treatment . If strong political will exists on
this issue, then the universal right to health could be a reality for all.

In India, the decision to shield medicines from product patents in 1970
allowed the country to develop a strong generic drug industry. Even after
joining the World Trade Organization and signing the Agreement on Trade
Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 1994, the Indian
government made full use of the 10 year transition period before
re-introducing product patents on medicines in 2005. When India finally did
change its patent law in 2005 the Indian government ensured that its patent
law would have enough health safeguards including limiting the ability the
pharmaceutical industry to get new patents on minor changes to existing
medicines that do not present real therapeutic advantages. This common
practice of pharmaceutical companies is called evergreening and Section
3(d) of the Indian patent law attempts to address the proliferation of
these sorts of patents that are common in developed countries. Currently,
the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis is contesting the
interpretation of section 3 (d) of the Indian patent law, the real shield
against abuse by the pharmaceutical industry, in India’s Supreme Court. If
the company wins this case, weakening patent standards for all medicines,
the consequences will be felt by people around the world who rely on India
for generic medicines.

In the early 2000s, the introduction of competition from generic medicines
led to a significant decrease in the cost of medicines used in the
treatment of HIV and AIDS. AIDS medicines that were available at high costs
with the best discounted price being $10,439 USD per person per year from
big pharmaceutical companies came down to $350 USD in 2001 from Indian
generics. Today the WHO recommended first line of medicines is available
from Indian generic companies for less than $150 per person per year. . The
Indian generic industry now provides over 80% of the HIV/AIDS medicines
used to treat adults and over 90% of the medicines used to treat children
in developing countries at a tiny fraction of what those same medicines
would cost in the absence of competition. Unfortunately, several of the
newer medicines for 2nd and 3rd-line use in treating HIV as well as
medicines for cancer and other diseases may be patented in India and in
other developing countries are either under patent and/or data monopoly
protections of developed country pharmaceutical firms, which are charging
exorbitant prices.

The Indian generic industry is currently under threat from all sides:
including by Novartis which is seeking to undermine the health safeguards
in the Indian patent law, by free trade agreements being negotiated by the
European Union and Switzerland (through the European Free Trade Association
or EFTA free trade agreement negotiations), or by various other
international trade agreements such as ACTA (the “anti counterfeiting trade

If the Indian generic drug industry withers away due to such actions of
pharmaceutical companies (either directly through lobbying or legal cases
or through their developed country governments), it would be millions of
people not just in the developing world but people also living in
Switzerland, US, France and other developed countries in need of access to
treatment that would suffer the consequences.

*The elderly and senior members of Act Up Basel, who are primarily
concerned about growing health costs and related debts that they may leave
to future generations, are active players of the mobilization for a
universal right to health. They want to see that the health system and
research should be accessible to everyone in a sustainable manner.* *People
living with HIV, hepatitis, cancer, mental illness, neglected diseases and
many other illnesses and health and public interest groups continue to
challenge the pharmaceutical industry that elevates profits over lives.*

*Act Up in Basel, based at the home of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry
that has come to symbolize the cynicism and greed of the multinational
pharmaceutical industry, is an alliance of people involved in and concerned
with these issues and convinced that we must collectively fight to
guarantee the fundamental right to health for all persons.*


*Act Up-Basel will engage in multiple campaigns to challenge the monopoly
rights of pharmaceutical companies, ensure that R&D efforts are targeted
towards priority needs, and promoting wider access to affordable generic
drugs in developed and developing countries. At present this includes:*

[image: -] Mobilizing people from all sections of society and ages against
the actions of the pharmaceutical industry in trying to bend patent laws
and health related laws in developed and developing countries for their own

[image: -] Prepare a database to monitor access to treatment and care and
to increase understanding of barriers to treatment access.

[image: -] Campaign to create the political will within developed and
developing countries to ensure a universal right to health that is
sustainable including through campaigns with political parties to place
this issue on the political agenda and part of their election manifestoes.

[image: -] Campaign against free trade agreements negotiated by Switzerland
and Europe with many developing countries, including India

*Act Up-Basel presentation text - February 2012*

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