The Pharmaceutical Juggernaut

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A grave injustice of today’s world is that lifesaving drugs are widely available, but priced out of reach of so many of the people who need them the most. In the late 1990s, we were confronted with a stark representation of that reality: Most people infected with HIV in wealthy countries were leading healthy and productive lives, thanks to antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs; but in poor countries, HIV meant a rapid decline and certain death.

In 2001, the Doha Declaration on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and Public Health established that intellectual property rights should not prevent countries from taking measures to protect public health. Indian generic drugs producers marketed ARVs at a fraction of earlier prices. Some pharmaceutical companies lowered their prices significantly in low- and middle-income countries. As a result, the number of people on ARVs soared: 10 times more people in developing countries were on ARVs in 2006 than in 2001. This has kept parents with children longer, helped societies stay productive and improved the overall quality of life for millions.

A lawsuit now underway in India could reverse this progress.

…….the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis filed two lawsuits against the government of India.

The quality and affordability of its generic drugs have made India a virtual “pharmacy to the world.” Nearly 70 percent of generic drugs manufactured in India are exported to other developing countries. The expansion of AIDS treatment over the past few years has been driven by the accessibility and affordability of generic ARVs from India. For example, Lesotho buys nearly 95 percent of all its ARVs from India; 90 percent of the ARVs used in Zimbabwe’s AIDS treatment program come from India.

If Novartis wins its Section 3(d) case, and other pharmaceutical companies follow in Novartis’ footsteps, minor modifications of existing drugs would be eligible for patents in India. That would prevent generic competition. If fewer generic drugs could be produced in India, fewer poor people around the world would have access to essential drugs for a range of illnesses. In particular, AIDS and TB treatment programs all over the world are likely to suffer.

Yes you have spent millions doing R & D. But is it also not true that you have made a successful ROI (Return On Investment)? Why do you want to see thousands upon thousands of people suffer? Let the generic manufaturing continue.

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