PolicyBuff: Let the larger interest of human race prevail

Tags: Opinion

India’s healthcare policies have not gone down well with US firms

<b>PolicyBuff</b>: Let the larger interest of human race prevail
UNDER SCRUTINY: If one were to go by reports, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Bayers have been behind the high-stakes and high-pitched campaign against India
For a large developing country like ours, the biggest challenge is to provide cost-effective medicines to a population that’s exploded to over 1.2 billion. Therefore, the focus of pharma and healthcare policies of successive governments has been to ensure over-the-counter availability of medicines at affordable prices.

The Indian government has taken upon itself to consciously encourage manufacture of bulk drugs, intermediates and generic formulations through an industry valued at over $25 billion today. These pharmaceutical units comprise large, medium, small and micro-enterprises that sell branded and generic drugs.

The US decision to continue keeping India on a ‘priority watch list’ for patents and intellectual property rights (IPRs) violation of ‘exorbitantly priced’ products from companies like Bristol Myers Squibb’s or Novartis needs to be seen in this backdrop. Even in other developing countries like Pakistan, Algeria, Chile, Thailand and Venezuela that figure on US Super 301 list, the biggest issue is to ensure availability of medicines from credible sources at least possible cost. Such public healthcare policies have not gone down well with American drug conglomerates that lobbied hard to get these countries cate­gorised for inadequate pa­tents protection. Interestingly enough, it is these very wide markets where the American pharma companies profiteered in billions of dollars on the back of product and process patents that they hold on drugs used for a range of ailments like cancer.

Five major lobbies in the US like Alliance for Fair Trade with India (AFTI), Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO), Global Intellectual Property Centre (GIPC), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) worked till the last moment with Obama administration to get India on the list of “priority foreign country” in the Special 301 report. If this had happened, it would have resulted in US sanctions on India and been disastrous for bilateral business and investment relations that are under stress.

The US ‘hard stick policy’ to deal with its trade partners does not serve any purpose as it would not be advantageous to the 11 US pharma companies that contributed heavily to Barrack Obama’s presidential campaign. Federal Election Commission figures point out that top politicians in the US, from President Obama to Mitt Romney, have benefitted from millions of dollars spent by these companies on election campaigns, political lobbying with senate leaders for policy formulation vis-à-vis other country markets, including India.

Product and process pa­tents, cartelisation and profiteering have virtually dictated global prices of drugs used for life threatening diseases in countries like India. Lobbying withUnited States trade representative (USTR) is more like piling on pressure to stop Indian drug companies from producing generic versions of the patented drugs. If one were to go by reports, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Bayers have been behind this high-pitched campaign against India.

But thankfully, sanity seems to have prevailed on the US not to disrupt trade and investment relations with India by putting it on ‘priority foreign country’ list. India has been working towards a well-established legislative, administrative and legal framework in dealing with patents, which has been recognised by US as well. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has given a clean chit to India for cleaning up its act on patents regime.

India has allowed production of generic versions of drugs patented by US companies in one or two cases that has been blown up out of proportion, hitting strategic bilateral relations. Even this has been done ‘in the larger interest of over 60 per cent people earning below $1.25 per day. The track record of US administration on drugs has not been something to write home about. President Obama has used his discretionary powers to allow American enterprises to produce patented foreign drugs citing “government use, public purpose or anti-competitive remedies”. Also, the Obama administration has invoked provisions under the Clean Energy Act, Atomic Energy Act and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Acts to prevent sale of drugs from other countries. It is also a fact that Supreme Courts in India and US have presided over litigation relating to patent disputes between Indian and American companies. US Supreme Court had heard as many as 39 patent infringements and IPR disputes in 293 cases during 2007-11.

Further, American drug companies have cited only two instances to make a case against India’s patent regime. They have been very critical of Supreme Court rejecting patents for Novartis on anti-cancer drug derivative, Glivec.

So now, it’s time to let larger interest of the human race prevail and not the narrow profiteering interests of US drug conglomerates.

badarinath@mydigitalfc.com

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