Asian Voices On Access to Medicines: Scrap TRIPS, Voluntary Licences Not Working, FTA Threats 18/03/2016 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 2 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Speakers from Asian civil society provided recommendations to the public hearing of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines held yesterday. They underlined the unaffordability of medicines in their countries, the inefficiency of current mechanisms such as voluntary licensing, and the pressure applied by pharmaceutical companies and the United States and Europe to prevent the use of compulsory licences. One speaker warned against the expert advice given by the World Intellectual Property Organization to least-developed countries, while others pointed to stringent intellectual property measures in free-trade agreements. A speaker in Bangkok speaks on screen at Johannesburg dialogue The second public hearing of the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines took place on 17 March in Johannesburg, South Africa. The hearing had a video link with Bangkok and four speakers from different Asian countries were invited to explain their propositions to help the issues of access to medicines. TRIPS Flexibilities Need to Be Used; No TRIPS-Plus in FTAs Jonas Bagas from the Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organisations, said the Philippine government was sued by Pfizer in 2006 for attempting to do parallel importation and it was just the beginning of efforts to prevent the use of the flexibilities in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the Philippines. However, things have now changed, he said with generic drugs representing 65 percent of the pharmaceutical market. The Philippines can do more and has to do more, he said. Antiretroviral medicines need to be more accessible to face the HIV epidemic, he said. He recommended that capacity be built among different stakeholders including governments, health regulators and health ministries and that TRIPS flexibilities be fully utilised. South-to-South collaboration should be encouraged to monitor patent applications that can undermine access to medicines, and developing countries need to introduce TRIPS flexibilities into their laws, he advised. The Philippines introduced TRIPS flexibilities 10 years after IP laws, and other countries can as well, he said. He also said that there is a need to support advocacy against “TRIPS-plus” free trade agreements. Inthira Yamabhai from the International Health Policy Program of Thailand said countries should undertake a holistic impact assessment around the issues of public health, trade and human rights as a prerequisite before joining a trade agreement. The strengthening of IP laws in developing countries is likely to lead to negative consequences, she said. TRIPS flexibilities are underutilised, she added. Between 1995 and 2010, only 13 compulsory licences were issued in middle-income countries, she said, due either to a lack of mechanisms in countries or the fear of retaliation. Policymakers should work toward achieving policy coherence between the intersection of public health and trade, she said. Dang Do Dong from the Vietnam Network of People Living with HIV, and an HIV patient himself since 1999, said the network is working on opposing patents on HIV and hepatitis C medicines. He underlined the fact that Vietnam is the lowest income country in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. In the next few years, all the TPP provisions will be coming into effect, and in Vietnam that could potentially lead to a decrease of 50 percent of the HIV treatment coverage, he said. He said that a currently negotiated free trade agreement with Vietnam and the European Union include TRIPS-plus measures, such as asking five years of data exclusivity. He asked that the panel call for the TPP IP and enforcement chapter to be removed and that there is a human rights review related to health and essential medicine in the EU FTA “TRIPS-plus” provision. “We need a clear impact analysis,” he said. Scrap TRIPS, Voluntary Licences/Tiered Pricing Not Working Loon Gangte on behalf of the Delhi Network of Positive People in India, said his association has filed a number of patent oppositions under Section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act. He said pharmaceutical companies are seeking to prolong the life of their patents (evergreening) for small alteration, which section 3(d) seeks to prevent. His advice to the panellists was: “scrap the system, scrap TRIPS.” As advice to all developing country leaders and governments, he said that being put on the United States unilateral Special 301 Watch List, which refers to the Special 301 Report (annual review of the state of IP rights protection and enforcement in US trading partners around the world), should be considered as a sign that “you are implementing TRIPS flexibilities in the right way and you are saving human lives.” Chalermsak Kittitrakul, on behalf of Aids Access Foundation in Thailand, gave two recommendations: have a system allowing a licence to produce or import a generic medicine regardless of the patent status in that country, and find a way to promote practical technology transfer in developing countries, as requested by the TRIPS agreement in exchange for patent protection. He said that Thailand’s issuance of compulsory licences in 2006 and 2007 for HIV, heart disease and cancer medicines led to “a lot of retaliation and pressure from the big pharma industry, the US and the European Union governments,” and as a result Thailand was put on the US special 301 report. He voiced concerns about voluntary licences and in particular the agreements under the Medicines Patent Pool, “because it cannot promote sustainable access to essential medicines for all,” he said, explaining that middle-income countries are excluded from the list under those licences. It is not just about the limit to access of medicines, but the export of active pharmaceutical ingredients to Thailand from India is also affected, he said, preventing local production,and leading to unaffordable prices. He also challenged tiered pricing and gave the example of Gilead and Bristol-Myers Squibb which filed registration with the Thai food and drug administration last year and now has proposed to launch their medicines in Thailand well above the means of the local population or the government. Pisey Ly, on behalf of the United Sisterhood Alliance/Social Action for Change, in Cambodia also said the panel should ensure that the transfer of technology “is going to happen in least-developed countries.” She voiced concerns about “expert advices” received by LDCs. She said her organisation is worried about the World Intellectual Property Organization’s advice in terms of how IP rights and patent law is going to work for the government and for the country, alleging a bias in WIPO’s advice. Tiered pricing does not work well, said Thomas Cai on behalf of AIDS Care China. Prices set by companies, such as Roche or Merck on some medicines, represent a third to a half of a monthly income. Fixing a price for medicines should not be left to pharmaceutical companies but to governments, he said, and should not be based on GDP but on local circumstances. He recommended that price negotiations be undertaken between governments and pharmaceutical companies to ensure people can assess quality affordable medications. He also recommended that South-South cooperation be strengthened and that public money be used for R&D so that life-saving medicines become accessible. For innovation or invention there are many other way of rewarding the inventors besides money, he said. “Money is the most horrible drug in our human history,” he said. “People never get enough, people keep getting overdose and then we lose our spirit.” [Editor’s Note: a final in-depth story on the dialogue is forthcoming on Intellectual Property Watch.] Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."Asian Voices On Access to Medicines: Scrap TRIPS, Voluntary Licences Not Working, FTA Threats" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.