Citizens, organizations and experts analyzed the current challenges to hep C and HIV medicine’s access at the International Forum organized by RedLAM
Citizens, NGO’s, experts and national authorities of Latin-American Countries exchanged ideas and strategic courses of action to boost Access to medicines at the “International Forum about Access to Medicines, Intellectual Property and Local Production”.
The event was held at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia auditorium in Lima, Peru, with participation of representatives of NGO’s from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, members of the Health Ministry of Ecuador, Peruvian professionals of varied disciplines, representatives of Pharmaceutical Associations from Peru, as well as representatives from local pharmaceutical companies and general public, whom actively joined the debate.
After a brief introduction and welcome words by Lorena Di Giano, General Coordinator of RedLAM, and by Dr. Carlos Cáceres, Director of the University’s Centro de Investigación Interdisciplinaria en Sexualidad, Sida y Sociedad, the first part of the forum began, centered on showing how intellectual property represents a barrier to access to essential medicines, specifically focused on the new treatments for hepatitis C.
The first speaker was Dr. Francisco Rossi, Executive Director of IFARMA (RedLAM, Colombia) who stated that the treatment for hepatitis C has become a clear and paradigmatic example of the tension between the people’s fundamental human rights and the companies’ and corporations commercial rights, especially relevant to the region’s countries. Multinational pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead Sciences are looking to generate monopolies over drugs such as sofosbuvir, a new Direct Action Antiviral that has been proved to potentially cure the hepatitis C infection. Gilead has launched to the international market its version of sofosbuvir at very high prices that make treatment unreachable to people who need it.
Rossi also stressed that this situation takes place due to the speculative nature of Gilead’s business’, especially with curative medicines, through the request of patents that allow monopolies permitting the arbitrary prices that favor their commercial interests. According to Rossi, there is, however “hope in our legal instruments available, such as patent oppositions, compulsory licenses, local public production among others”.
In the same line, Lorena Di Giano (FGEP-RedLAM, Argentina) and Marcela Vieira (ABIA-RedLAM, Brasil) introduced the cases of sofosbuvir’s patent oppositions in Argentina and Brazil, done jointly last May with organizations from Ukraine and Russia to prevent Gilead’s patents system abuse and allow sofosbuvir to reach every person who needs it. Besides stressing the failure to fulfill legal requirements such as lack of novelty and use of public knowledge already available, that exclude the possibility to obtain a patent, Di Giano declared that “it is essential that TRIPs health safeguards are used as valid instruments to promote access “. Her speech also alerted about the terrible consequences that the signing of free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership may have for the region’s countries, since it could be a vehicle for the U.S. to remove most public health safeguards from local laws.
The open discussion about oppositions was complemented with the participation of Luis Alberto Kanashiro (Peru’s Dean) and Berenice Pinto (Asociación de Industrias Farmacéuticas Nacionales de Peru). Kanashiro was lauded when declaring that “if all pharmaceutical professional’s associations would work along civil society, we would have better chances to fight monopolies”. Closing the first part of the Forum, Javier Llamoza (AIS-RedLAM, Perú) stated: “It is unacceptable that a single human being dies knowing there is a cure for his or her disease. Society must rise and claim for the solution to be accessible to all”.
The states’ part on the play: antiretroviral local production
This second part of the Forum added the public and local production of medicines to the discussion. Mónica Di Giano (FGEP-RedLAM, Argentina) explained that 39 out of the 250 national labs that control 58% of the total production in Argentina are public and that the current legislative and political context favours this tendency by aiming to recover the national sovereignty in health issues. This is key to improve a situation that was worsened during the nineties, when the national patent’s law was passed.
After the argentine case, Verónica Espinosa, Ecuador’s Deputy Secretary of Health, presented the experience on this country, where since 2008 the constitution guarantees fair and equitable access to health. Espinosa remarked that since the creation of ENFARMA (Empresa Pública de Fármacos) in 2009, Ecuador develops, produces and commercializes medicines at socially fair prices, focused on the society’s benefit by reducing costs, producing generic versions and promoting investigation and development. In her exposition, Espinosa showed that “political will to reject patents or allowing obligatory licenses is not enough: it is necessary that public production is guaranteed to complement this strategy”.
Brazil’s case was presented by Pedro Villardi (ABIA-RedLAM, Brasil), who introduced the history and part that public labs have had in that country. By way of civil society pressure and mobilization, Brazil created its free and universal ARVS distribution program in the nineties. This generated a great boost to the public labs’ key role in medicine production. Villardi also mentioned the obligatory license issued in 2007 for the drug efavirenz as a positive precedent that allowed the brazilian state the saving of U$S 104 million in five years. He also expressed that a fair price is established taking production costs and not speculative investigation and development costs as a reference. In this line, José María Di Bello (FGEP-RedLAM), the panel’s moderator, stated that “a fair price is one that adjusted to production costs can be paid to guarantee all the people’s health, and not the abusive figures demanded by the multinational pharmaceutical corporations”.
The last presentation, in charge of Miguel Cortez Gamba (IFARMA-RedLAM, Colombia) showed the alternative way that pharmaceutical compounds open to avoid the patent’s barriers. Cortez reminded that according to ADPIC’s article 30 on the exceptions to exclusive rights and in relation to individual prescriptions, patents laws usually exclude from their reach medicines prepared for an individual case in a drugstore or by a medicine professional. According to Dr. Carlos Correa: “This exclusion, although not specifically mentioned, can be considered allowed by article 30 of the agreement on ADPIC.” Cortez showed that patents only apply over industrial production, and since pharmaceutical compounding are “craftworks” prescribed by a doctor to a particular patient, they allow the manufacturing of necessary medicines (even at a national scale, as showed in the case of Spain, where more than 8 million compound recipes are prescribed per year) without depending on transnational monopolies.
The Forum was closed with farewell words from AIS Peru’s President Roberto López Linares, who stressed to the audience that medicines are always to be considered social goods, and claiming for an end to all medicine’s access barriers.
People’s health cannot depend on economic speculation and greed for profit: the citizens’ lives must prevail over the pharmaceutical corporations’ abusive interests.
OUR HEALTH IS NOT FOR SALE!
(CORREA, Carlos, 144, Propiedad intelectual y salud pública, 2006, capitulo: excepciones a los derechos exclusivos.