Former Swedish Prime Minister Right About ‘Irrelevance’ of Patents, Wrong About Effects of ‘Compulsory Licensing,’ Letter to Editor Says
Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt is "spot on" in his analysis of the failure of negotiators in the World Trade Organization to realize the "irrelevance" of medical patents to solving the problem of access to medicine in developing countries, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations Director-General Harvey Bale writes in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe in response to an opinion piece by Bildt that was published in the same paper last week. However, Bildt's "compulsory licensing" solution, which would allow poor countries to access patented drugs in public health emergencies, would allow "some developing countries' generic industries to have an everlasting right to lobby their governments to effectively expropriate any new drug technologies," Bale continues. Bildt was correct when he said that the "vast majority" of generic, patent-expired medicines for diseases such as AIDS are unavailable in developing countries and that the solution to the problem is not the national patent offices, Bale states. A "[l]ack of government attention, extremely low incomes, corruption, high taxes and tariffs on medicines, and poor medical infrastructure" keep drugs away from people in developing countries, Bale says. For example, India has no patent "barriers" on HIV/AIDS-related medications, yet "less than 5% of AIDS patients receive needed drugs," Bale continues. Moreover, the European pharmaceutical industry is already "weakened" by price controls and will further lose "biological sciences brainpower" to countries with stronger patent infrastructures, Bale says. Allowing companies in "advanced developing countries" like India and Argentina to "free-rid[e] on an innovator's patent rights will only further accelerate this negative development," Bale writes. "Patients in the Third World do not gain, European innovative capacity loses and only the copycats win," Bale concludes, adding, "[H]opefully ... politicians will see the light before too much more damage is done in the WTO" (Bale, Wall Street Journal Europe, 1/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.