Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|3 dead - time to change the law on TRIPS (some lives are worth more then others)|
|11/19/01 at 08:36:30|
3 dead - time to change the law on TRIPS
Now that the US is in desperate need of strong antibiotics it must be time to change the
laws regarding pharmaceutical patents. Three Americans are obviously worth more than
thousands of Africans. In a post room near Capitol Hill, two men unwittingly inhaled lethal
anthrax spores sent flying invisibly through the air by a letter-processing machine. In
Johannesburg and Nairobi and countless other African cities and in smaller towns and
villages, thousands of men and women every day are unwittingly passing to each other a
lethal virus; HIV. In a few decades life expectancy in Africa has been cut dramatically,
perhaps as a result of HIV.
To date three men have now died of anthrax in the US. Tens of thousands of Africans die
of HIV/Aids every year. There is a huge disparity in the number of dead in each of these
What links them is a ferocious battle over the patents on the drugs used to treat them,
granted to pharmaceutical companies. Drug companies produce what they think the market
will buy and charge what the market will bear. However some say that in times of public
health crisis - be it an anthrax attack or an Aids epidemic - patent protection must be torn
down in the interests of public health.
A powerful antibiotic made by Bayer with the brand name of ciprofloxacin (Cipro) is the
best chance of life for anyone who has inhaled anthrax spores. In the US it will be under
patent until 2004. It is now in very great demand and the US government wants to stockpile
1.2 billion pills. Bayer can produce about 15 million a week. Five generic companies have
already received US Food and Drug Administration clearance for the quality of their
ciprofloxacin, and could immediately be asked to manufacture the drug.
The US is not the only country that wants a stash of Cipro. Canada did not think twice
about the issue. Faced with the likelihood of a limited supply from Bayer, it commissioned
the Canadian company Apotec to produce a generic copy. It agreed to deliver 1m tablets by
The result has been uproar from all sides. Bayer threatened to sue the Canadian
government for breach of patent, while the US, closest friend and staunch defender of the
pharmaceutical industry, and the patent system, has been embarrassed by it all. On
Tuesday (23/10/01) the Canadian government backed down and promised to respect
Bayer's patent until the Canadian expiry date of 2003, in return for an undertaking that
Bayer would deliver the drugs within two days of any anthrax attack. It now faces paying
for it twice because the contract with Apotec still stands, although the medicine will not be
used unless Bayer fails to deliver.
The fiasco is embarrassing for the US government because Canada has until now, been
fully behind the US-led efforts to enforce respect for patents in the developing world. Drug
patents last for 20 years. Not all countries have recognised them in the past, but all the
member states of the WTO are being brought into line through the TRIPS (trade related
intellectual property rights) agreement. By 2006, even the poorest member states in Africa
will have had to pass their own national legislation to become TRIPS-compliant and fully
signed-up respecters of patents on new drugs.
But for many years, the US has been acting as the industry's policeman, threatening trade
sanctions against countries such as Thailand when it started to make cheap copies of
drugs for the opportunistic infections that kill people whose immune systems are knocked
out by HIV.
There are clauses within the TRIPS agreement that are intended as a "get-out" for
countries facing a health crisis such as the Aids epidemic or - just as easily argued -
tuberculosis and malaria. But when the South African government tried to pass legislation
that would allow it to import drugs that are cheaper elsewhere, it first came under serious
pressure from the US trade representative and then found itself in court. Earlier this year
39 pharmaceutical companies tried to sue the South African government (with the help of
the US) in order to prevent them importing affordably cheap medicines for South Africa’s
However the US government can override patents with relative impunity. In September
2001, 178 compulsory licences (the permission to disregard a patent, which Canada gave
to Apotec) were issued in the US with regard to software products. The patent holder
does not lose - in the US at least - because he will be compensated. But on drug patents,
the US government usually does not give in.
The growing concern over the anthrax attacks has brought the patent issue - and the
parallels between the US health crisis and the Aids epidemic, in Africa - to public attention
in the US. The US is now experiencing a little of what developing countries suffer. Now the
US and Canada are facing a shortage and a problem of providing the medicines that the
government thinks are needed to protect health, the patent is a barrier to doing that and
they are looking for ways of overcoming that.
Even highly developed countries can be overwhelmed by the system when it tries to take
steps to protect public health. That is just how the African countries feel. The most
sophisticated countries in the world are getting just a taste of what it is like to have a
deadly illness on the move and lack the medicines to deal with it. The west created the
TRIPS concept and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine.
Source: Kcom Journal
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|Re: 3 dead - time to change the law on TRIPS (some lives are worth more then others)|
|11/19/01 at 09:12:58|
Doesn't it make you sick that, in the interests of "national security", human rights can be "suspended" ("derogated from" in official parlance) but business rights? No, that's a different matter ...
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