The proliferation of substandard, dangerous medicines in poor countries is being used by rich countries as an excuse to tighten intellectual property rules, boosting the profits of large pharmaceutical companies while making it harder for poor people to get access to the medicines they need, according to a report published by international agency Oxfam.
More than 2 billion people lack regular access to affordable and quality medicines. The World Health Organization estimates that 30 per cent of countries have no functioning drug regulatory authorities.Studies indicate that in some countries as much as 44 per cent of certain types of medicines, such as anti-malarials, are substandard.
Rich countries express concern about this real threat to public health, but they propose actions that will do little to address this problem. Specifically, they propose the enactment in poor countries of expanded intellectual property rules to reduce the availability of counterfeit products that criminally infringe trademarks. Yet anti-counterfeit measures are limited in scope and fail to address the broader public health problem of substandard and falsified medicines which pose a danger to public health but do not necessarily infringe intellectual property rights. Worse, new anti-counterfeit measures will stifle the production of and trade in low-cost generic medicines. 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.
Oxfam is calling on rich countries to abandon their focus on expanded intellectual property protection and instead provide funds to support drug regulation in poor countries. The report published by Oxfam, Eye on the Ball, argues that improved regulation of medicines by poor countries, not enforcement of intellectual property rules, is the best way to ensure safe, effective, quality medicines.
Rohit Malpani, Oxfam senior policy adviser, said:
“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...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 poor...it is outrageous that rich countries and drug companies are pushing ‘solutions’ that will do more harm than good to patients and public health."
The European Union is pushing for stricter levels of IP protection that would limit access to medicines. In many cases, these efforts have been supported – both tacitly and overtly – by the multinational pharmaceutical industry.