Friday, April 14, 2017

Health for All

The tension between monopoly for patent holders (usually the big drug companies) and access to medicines for all has become acute and there are social movements around the world, both in developing and developed countries, that are fighting for patient’s rights and against excessive monopolies by companies.

No one should be deprived of health care even they are too poor to afford it.  Unfortunately, while the prices of old medicines whose patents have expired have gone down, there are many newer medicines which are too expensive for the ordinary person to afford. That’s because a company that owns the patent has a monopoly over the production and sale of the medicine. Since there are no competitors, the price can be skyrocketed to high or to even astronomical levels.  The patent normally lasts 20 years.
For example, the prices of medicines for HIV-AIDS had been at the level of US$15,000 per person per year in the United States.  For most AIDS patients in Africa and other developing countries this meant they could just not afford them. Since those medicines were not yet patented in India, because India had until 2005 to implement the TRIPs Agreement of the World Trade Organisation, an Indian drug company CIPLA, was able to sell and distribute a three-in-one combination drug for about US$300 per person per year. Later, the price levels of the generic producers fell further to about US$60. Millions of lives around the world were saved by competitor generic companies which could sell the medicines at a more affordable price. Health agencies like the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria were set up to and took advantage of the falling prices to make AIDS medicines available to poor countries. In recent years a similar storm has been brewing over the prices of new drugs for Hepatitis C, a life-threatening disease which millions around the world suffer from. One of the drugs, Sofosbuvir, which has an efficacy rate of 95% and with fewer side effects, but is being sold in the US for about US$85,000.
Some generic companies in India have been allowed by the patent-holding company to produce it and sell at their own price level, which is currently around US$200-400 per patient for a course of treatment. They sell these drugs in India and in lower income countries at these much cheaper prices. But they are not allowed by the patent holder to sell in most middle income countries, so almost two million people in developing countries cannot have the medicine at the affordable price.
There are many new medicines already in existence or coming on stream that are patented and therefore out of reach of most patients. This tension between monopoly for patent holders (usually the big drug companies) and access to medicines for all has become acute and there are social movements around the world, both in developing and developed countries, that are fighting for patient’s rights and against excessive monopolies by companies.

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