US Rejects Generics Even for Public Health Emergencies

The Bush Administration, in concert with other industrialized countries under the sway of Big Pharma, is trying to cripple the generic drug industry and make the world safe for more expensive proprietary drugs. And if a public health emergency erupts that calls for large quantities of cheap generics? Too bad. If anthrax powder re-appears as a terror weapon and requires mass quantities of Cipro, if the flu becomes a pandemic and people need Tamiflu, everyone in the US and EU countries will just have to pay full price — assuming there are sufficient quantities of the drugs, of course.

This is the news coming from the World Trade Organization. Or rather, this is the news coming from public health organizations who are covering those meetings; the actual trade ministers refuse to publicly discuss these decisions and the mainstream press has refused to cover the issue. In the Huffington Post today, James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology writes:

Although not reported in the US mainstream media, and barely noted in the European, Australian or Canadian press, the decision will contain a provision that is intended to prevent the United States, the members of the European Community, and a few other countries from getting access to generic medicines, even in cases involving national emergencies, such as an avian flu pandemic.

Is it really so hard to understand the implications of these developments at the WTO? People will die because medicines are artificially expensive. Big Pharma wants to protect its patents and revenues at all costs, the public health and poor countries be damned. Compliant governments and a lapdog press are happy to let Big Pharma have its way.

That wasn’t so complicated now, was it?

The WTO decision represents a decisive repudiation of the WTO’s 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, which called for policies to make it easier to export generic medicines under compulsory licenses.

As Love explains, “Unless generic companies can export medicines, they will not have sufficient economies of scale to have efficient production. And unless a country that lacks domestic suppliers of a generic drug can find a foreign supplier, they won’t be able to obtain cheap medicines, when the patent owner cannot supply the market, or won’t charge reasonable prices.”

The Doha Declaration led many people into thinking that affordable access to essential medicines just might be achieved under the WTO regime. Markets and commons, and patents and public health, could coexist. Now we see that all Big Pharma really wants to do is consummate its own proprietary enclosure of the commons by eradicating generic drugs.

Memo to Merck, Pfizer, GSK, et al: You can stop running all those feel-good ads hyping your noble commitment to humanity. You’ve played your hand.

Originally published by David Bollier at Onthecommons.org under a Creative Commons Attribution license.