3 dead - time to change the law on TRIPS (some lives are worth more then others)

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3 dead - time to change the law on TRIPS (some lives are worth more then others)
11/19/01 at 08:36:30

                                                           KCom Journal

                    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
                    November 8.

                    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
                    HIV-positive population.

                    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
                    Comment:  "If you wish to comment on this article please email article@khilafah.com"

                    Related Item:
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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