India, Thailand and Philippines must face down conflicts to guarantee affordable medicines
Pharmaceutical companies are now embroiled in three high-profile disputes over patents that could have a devastating effect on poor people’s access to affordable medicines, says international agency Oxfam.
The companies – Novartis, Merck and Pfizer – are resisting moves by India, Thailand and the Philippines respectively to use safeguards that are written into World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules in order to protect public health.
Each company is trying to impose its patent monopoly on a big-selling medicine to stop the countries from exercising their rights to trade in cheaper generic equivalents.
“The industry is fighting hard because developing country markets, especially in Asia, are vital for its future growth and these medicines under dispute are so valuable,” said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign. “These disputes put monopolies and profits over public health, which is exactly what world leaders promised would never be allowed to happen under WTO intellectual property rules.”
Pharmaceutical sales across the world’s four biggest emerging markets, including India, grew by 22.3% in 2005 compared to single digit growth in the US, Europe and Japan. Of the medicines in dispute, Novartis’ anti-blood-cancer drug Glivec is worth $2.1 billion in annual sales and its patent begins to expire in 2013. Pfizer’s hypertension drug Norvasc is worth $4.7 billion in annual sales and it wants to extend its patent that has already begun to expire in some countries.
In a statement prepared for Oxfam, author John le Carre said yesterday:
“Here is what I wrote five years ago in the Afterword to 'The Constant Gardener:'
“As my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, I came to realize that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard.”
The reality today is worse. By imposing one-to-one deals on individual governments, Big Pharma is dishonoring hard-won international agreements designed to allow lifesaving generic drugs to be produced and marketed in countries where there is urgent and demonstrable need. The present posture of Novartis in India is a classic example of Big Pharma’s unbeautiful priorities. With unlimited legal resources Novartis is challenging India's sovereign right under international law to supply cheap, non-patented drugs in situations where the public health is at risk. If the case succeeds, Novartis will have protected the health of its account books at the expense of those who will die because they can't afford the drugs that could save them. ”
“Since India is the main supplier of inexpensive medicines to the developing world, a victory for Novartis will also curtail access to affordable medicines in Africa and Asia as well,” Charveriat said.
“These three disputes show that the intellectual property system cannot work to protect public health if companies can continue to undermine developing countries from using legitimate health safeguards. In two cases, we have a legal battleground where poor people are losing out to vested interests,” said Charveriat.
Some companies including Merck and Novartis say they can discount prices or donate medicines to poor patients instead. Oxfam says that this is not the long-term solution to sustainable access to affordable medicines and does not cover all patients who need them.
“Donations can help poor people in specific situations, such as disease eradication programs. However, discount programs keep all decisions about who can get medicines and for how long in the hands of the companies. A sustainable and proven way to get affordable medicines to people is by generic competition,” Charveriat said.
”The Philippines, Thailand and India have taken important steps to use public health safeguards to reduce the price of medicines and respond to serious public health problems. They should not be bullied when rightfully applying these rules,” Charveriat said. “We applaud their efforts. They should remain strong against this corporate pressure and the companies should drop their lawsuits and their objections.”
For more information, please contact:
Matt Grainger, on +44 1865 339 128, or mobile +44 7730 680 837
The #ArmsTreaty can create a safer future for millions, but first it needs signatures. Urge the US to sign! http://t.co/4YUsIawus71 hour 50 min ago
#EU foreign ministers must bite the bullet & extend the arms #embargo on #Syria http://t.co/rL80yARiSt #SyriaCrisis #ArmsTreaty8 hours 20 min ago
RT @OxfamIreland: Ireland pledges €2.5 million in aid to Mali to contribute to reconstruction http://t.co/wvUzsRsHoD via @IrishTimes #Mal…15 hours 47 min ago
As @UN Disaster Risk Reduction Conference ends, worth checking #GPDRR13 for great tweets from @unisdr @UNOCHA @Federation et al16 hours 18 min ago
RT @UNOCHA: Only 3% of all #humanitarian aid was allocated towards disaster prevention & preparedness measures in 2012 - http://t.co/cT0OwU…16 hours 22 min ago
As food scandals hit the headlines, is food safety a casualty of today’s high & volatile #foodprices? http://t.co/Yuh7N0RUtN16 hours 48 min ago
RT @OxfamAmerica: Our deepest sympathies to @DivineChocolate on the loss of Christiana Ohene-Agyare, Pres. of Kuapa Kokoo in #Ghana http://…17 hours 41 min ago
What success at the #G8 would look like: 'We’ll stop hurting our brothers & sisters' http://t.co/yjtQNoc64W #land #taxjustice18 hours 37 min ago
Ban Ki-moon's visit to Goma, #DRC welcomed following new explosion of violence, but its causes need to be addressed http://t.co/2wATHBmLrm19 hours 33 min ago
Why is Russia still arming #Syria? Interesting @NYTimes editorial http://t.co/mDrecVJf4v #oil #NYT #SyriaCrisis20 hours 21 min ago
Oops, correct link here to press release: ‘Squeezed’: how poor ppl are adjusting to rising #foodprices http://t.co/lgDXW3bjK020 hours 46 min ago
#EU leaders back the interests of an elite minority, fail to clamp down on #taxdodging http://t.co/VNbvkyMmyG @OxfamEU21 hours 1 min ago
RT @louis_press: Lebanon saw an increase of 12% of its population (500.000) w/ #refugees from #Syria = As if 7.5m would enter Great Britain…22 hours 18 min ago
RT @louis_press: Untold story of #syria war is the incredible generosity + hospitality of ppl of #Lebanon #Jordan #Iraq. Despite tensions, …22 hours 36 min ago
More than 80,000 people have been killed & several million displaced since the #SyriaCrisis began http://t.co/WYbyDUytmX #Syria22 hours 47 min ago