Drugs patents ‘killing millions of poor’

July 18th, 2008 - 2:14 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, July 18 (IANS) Drugs companies should be given incentives to serve the health needs of the global poor as international rules on intellectual property are contributing to millions of avoidable deaths, a leading political philosopher has told a major meeting of European pharmacologists. Thomas Pogge, professor of philosophy and international affairs at Yale University in the United States, told an audience that included senior figures from the pharmaceutical industry Thursday that intellectual property rights rules “contribute to the fact that millions of poor people avoidably die each year from a lack of effective medicines”.

Pogge said people were dying from a lack of locally-available drugs; a lack of access due to the high prices of patented medicines; and a lack of research into diseases concentrated among the poor - a state of affairs he said was “morally unacceptable”.

He said huge mortality and morbidity rates could be dramatically lowered by reforming the way the development of new medical treatments are funded.

Pogges’s comments, made to the Federation of European Pharmacological Societies (EPHAR) 2008 Congress at the University of Manchester, come as the prickly issue of intellectual property rights emerges as a hot negotiating topic at world trade talks in Geneva.

A group of more than 100 developing countries led by India want indigenous knowledge and traditions to be taken into account when pharmaceutical and other patents are granted, so that poor people are not forced to pay high prices of medicines that are derived from existing local knowledge.

Pogge said the creation of a Health Impact Fund (HIF), the details of which are being worked by an international interdisciplinary team, could help make the existing intellectual property regime “human-rights compliant”.

Proposed as a global agency underwritten by governments, the HIF would reward the patentee of any new medicine during its first decade or so, with annual payments proportional to the medicine’s demonstrated global health impact.

Registering a medicine with the Fund would be voluntary and require a concession affecting its price. Pogge says this would give innovators the opportunity to forego “monopoly rents in favour of an alternative path that would provide ample rewards for the development of new high-impact medicines without excluding the poor from their use”.

“The main responsibility for change lies with politicians and citizens. But pharmaceutical companies are also citizens, and they play a significant role in the political process of most societies. They lobby a lot. And here I do see fault. They lobby for holding the line on a status quo that is simply morally unacceptable,” he said.

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