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Doctors Without Borders backs developing world’s pharmacy
February 15, 2014, 8:18 am

Customers buy medicine at a pharmacy in Mumbai, India [Getty Images]

Customers buy medicine at a pharmacy in Mumbai, India [Getty Images]

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders has slammed the US and its pharma lobby for exerting pressure on India over its patent laws, saying such actions undermine the global trading system.

“Every country has the right to take steps to increase access to medicines and implement a patent system in line with its public health needs. We strongly object to the pressure exerted by the US on developing countries, including India, for using legal flexibilities to protect public health,” Rohit Malpani of the Doctors Without Borders told the US International Trade Commission on Friday.

Governments in emerging markets have increasingly sparred with Big Pharma as these global drug firms try to increase footprints in these fast-growing economies. India has been at the forefront of this growing confrontation, alongwith South Africa and Brazil as these nations try to make cheap generic medicines accessible to patients overhauling intellectual property rights.

The American Trade Commission has conducted a hearing this week in connection with its investigation “Trade, Investment, and Industrial Policies in India: Effects on the US Economy“.

“India’s measures are fully compliant with global trade rules and with the laws of India. These attacks undermine the global trading system as well as the independence of the Indian judiciary, which was responsible for the decisions under discussion today,” Malpani told the USITC members.

The measures India has implemented to safeguard public health are of critical importance to protect the health of millions of people across the world. India has been nicknamed the “pharmacy to the developing world” in recognition of this fact, he said.

“Losing this ‘pharmacy’ would be devastating for patients and for treatment providers,” he said and urged USITC to evaluate the decisions made by the Indian government under international trade rules taking in to consideration its impact on public health.

South Africa’s Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi last month slammed global drugmakers for a “satanic conspiracy” campaigning against the changes in its IP rights. Motsoaledi said this was “a plan for genocide”.

The African nation is trying to implement a new law which would allow generic drugmakers to produce cut-price copies of patented medicines and make it harder for firms to register and roll over patents.

Meanwhile, taking to task the strong US pharma lobby, which in the past one year has launched a campaign against India, the Doctors Without Border representatives said relying on high prices for medicines backed up by intellectual property monopolies is a flawed paradigm to pay for medical innovation.

“It creates both access problems due to high prices – as we have seen – and at the same time it does not stimulate innovation for many of the diseases affecting people in developing countries, where patients have limited purchasing power and the private sector sees no incentive,” Malpani said.

“Today, we basically have a trade off between innovation and access. If you have wide access, says the industry, you aren’t supporting innovation,” he said.

“Seeking greater intellectual property norms in countries like India that are the source of access for millions around the world, not only does little for innovation but it perpetuates a failed business model,” Malpani said.

“Instead of aggressively pushing governments, such as India, to ignore its legal rights under international trade rules to ensure affordable medicine prices, the US government should work with India and other countries, to invest in and develop new models of innovation and access,” he said.

Brazil, India and South Africa are trying to bring in changes in legislature aimed at reducing medicine prices and opening up a fledgling generic drug industry earlier dominated by giant drugmakers such as Sanofi, Baxter International, Pfizer, Novartis, Aspen Pharmacare and Adcock Ingram.

 TBP and Agencies