How the war on fake drugs risks harming the poor
February 2, 2011
Sarah Boseley's Global Health Blog
A new Oxfam report warns that the strategy against counterfeit medicines suits the interests of big pharma and rich countries, but will not safeguard the poor against fake and sub-standard drugs, and could hinder their access to cheap quality medicines.
There is a lot of talk about the dangers of counterfeit medicines these days and, indeed, counterfeit drugs are dangerous things. But, says Oxfam in a new report today, the war on fake drugs in the developing world is being waged in a way that may suit the big pharmaceutical companies but poses very grave dangers to the health of the poor. Read more
See the Oxfam press release
There is a lot of talk about the dangers of counterfeit medicines these days and, indeed, counterfeit drugs are dangerous things. But, says Oxfam in a new report today, the war on fake drugs in the developing world is being waged in a way that may suit the big pharmaceutical companies but poses very grave dangers to the health of the poor.
Fake drugs and sub-standard drugs, such as antibiotics with too little of the active ingredient to do any good, are sold all over the developing world. They can do real harm, but the strategy against counterfeits will not stop much of that trade, according to Oxfam, because its focus is to strengthen the patent system. Patents prevent legal copies of new drugs from being made for a period of up to 20 years - but many of the fake and sub-standard drugs going around in Africa and Asia are not in patent anyhow.
Oxfam says rich countries, which are pushing for stronger patents in the interest of the pharmaceutical companies which contribute to their GDP, should instead be helping poor countries to strengthen their drug regulatory and policing systems. This is how Rohit Malpani, senior policy adviser, puts it:
Poor countries are facing a crisis of substandard and falsified medicines that can harm or even kill those who take them. Yet rather than help poor countries address the problem to ensure safe, effective and quality medicines for all, rich countries are putting commercial interests ahead of public health in these countries.
The European Union and the United States continue to focus almost exclusively on eliminating counterfeit medicines which form only a small part of this public health problem – but which are a serious concern for their multinational companies. They have used the crisis in medicine quality in developing countries as an excuse to push for new intellectual property rules that will boost the profits of pharmaceutical giants at the expense of affordable medicines for the poor.
Oxfam is particularly critical of the European Union, but also of the World Health Organisation. There is confusion between counterfeits and generics - legally-made, cheap copies of medicines that, particularly in the case of Aids drugs, have saved lives in the developing world. A WHO-led initiative called IMPACT (International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce) is unclear on the difference between them. The report says:
IMPACT proposes an expansive definition of counterfeit medicines that confuses conterfeits and generic medicines, and over-emphasises police action to ensure the safety and efficacy of medicines.
At the same time, the multinational pharmaceutical industry has exerted pressure on individual countries, such as Kenya and Thailand, to change their national laws and law enforcement priorities in ways that endanger access to generic medicines.
Generic medicines are vital to the health of the poor. Enforcing patents, in a way that might restrict their manufacture, will do more harm than good, says Oxfam. Instead, developing countries should be helped to strengthen their own monitoring and regulation so that the drugs their citizens use are safe and effective.
Read the original article
See the Oxfam press release