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Commentary

Misdiagnosing the diseases of the poor
Barun Mitra, International Policy Network, 2-9-05

As India embraces patents on pharmaceutical products under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, anti-patent (and anti-capitalist) ideologues there and abroad are casting the move as a plot by multinational corporations to deny poor patients in the developing world access to critical generic medicines.

Mitra replies that this view is wrongheaded—and just plain wrong. “The present debate over the Indian patent law, despite the passion, is underscored by the desire to score political points…India has been a proving ground for those who oppose patents on pharmaceutical products. We scrapped all product patents in 1972. As a result, India is now home to over 20,000 pharmaceutical companies producing copies of drugs developed - and patented - elsewhere. However, access to medicines remains poor - suggesting that patents are not the key determinant of access that their opponents claim.” [emphasis added]

He goes on to note that although India produces many of the world’s generic AIDS drugs, less than 1% of Indian AIDS patients are treated with those drugs. “The real reason for the lack of access to medicines and other forms of healthcare is the prevailing stranglehold of government regulation of the health sector. The public sector healthcare provision [in India] is a sick joke, characterized by shortages of hospitals, beds, equipments, medicines, and manpower. Claims of medical negligence and malpractice are frequent. Hospitals in India are often dangerous places. In spite of the risk of infection with HIV, the government of India recently admitted that 69% of injections administered in public hospitals could be unsafe.”



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