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NGOs slam move to keep India out of patent pool
BS Reporter / New Delhi December 13, 2009,

Indian civil society organisations have opposed a reported move by global drug procurement agency UNITAID to exclude countries such as China, Brazil and India from a proposed patent pool for AIDS drugs.

UNITAID is an international facility hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Geneva, for buying drugs against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis to be used in poor countries.

The move will be a major blow to the ability of Indian industry to make low-cost versions of patented medicines and will push prices of future AIDS medicines, these groups have alleged.

In a statement last week, Philippe Douste-Blazy, chair, UNITAID, said the patent pool plan was meant to scale up access to medicines in developing countries.

The opposition has come on the eve of a crucial UNITAID Board meeting (on December 14 & 15) to approve a plan for implementing the patent pool proposal. The need for such a patent pool was highlighted by the WHO as a means to ensure supply of AIDS medicines to the developing world.
Patent pool essentially means a voluntary decision by patent holders or global drug majors to forgo their patent rights in select countries. Generic companies will be allowed to make medicines in those countries after paying a mutually agreed licence fee.

It was alleged that drug majors had informed UNITAID that they could contribute to the patent pool only on a selective basis and thereby prevent over 100 middle income countries such as India, Brazil and China from accessing rights to manufacture generic versions of these medicines.

The groups say the patent pool will turn meaningless if only poor countries are included in the list as none of them have the capability to manufacture these medicines.

In a joint appeal, seven civil society groups, including the National Working Group on Patent Laws, the Centre for Trade and Development, the All India Peoples Science Network, complained that UNITAID had refused to share the patent pool implementation plan with them. According to them, the concept of patent pool, as conceived by the agency, undermined the importance of “compulsory licensing” that was allowed under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.

In a separate mail, Public Health Movement, the global network of grassroot health NGOs, said the pool, if adopted in the current form, would create more barriers than ease access to affordable medicines

“The plan will be discussed for approval at UNITAID’s Executive Board meeting on December 14. In developing the plan, UNITAID has consulted with a variety of stakeholders, spanning from communities living with the disease to public health and intellectual property experts and pharmaceutical companies”, Douste-Blazy said.

“In keeping with UNITAID’s constitution, the patent pool in no way a means to replace or override other provisions contained in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement or the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. The patent pool represents an additional tool to increase access to HIV treatment, and an opportunity for patent holders to voluntarily contribute to the attainment of crucial health-related goals endorsed by the international community” he added.

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