Put your patents where your mouths are



The TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), that represents 20 million consumers from 18 countries, salutes the practical beginning of a new strategy toward providing affordable medicines  to much of the world´s population. UNITAID, an organization that aims to improve access to medicines in the South,  has been given its first patents on AIDS drugs by the public research establishment of the US, the National Institute of Health (NIH).

There are no technical or scientific reasons for the millions of people affected by HIV/AIDs who cannot afford the most effective life-saving drugs; only the lack of political will to overcome  the patent monopolies by large pharmaceutical companies and the absence of the promotion of essential medicines as public goods.  The move by the Obama Administration to donate one of  the many patents  needed for antiviral treatment is indeed excellent news but it will only be useful for producing much cheaper generic AIDs medicines if drug companies like Johnson and Johnson come forward with the other patents needed to complete both “darunavir” and the two other drug classes needed for “combination antiviral therapy” (the type of treatment enjoyed by most in the US and Europe while denied to the rest of the world). TACD demands that the remaining patents be quickly integrated into the UNITAID patent pool by either voluntary or non-voluntary means.

Of course, it comes of no surprise that a public institution like the NIH gives one of its patents for the general public good.  What is much more surprising for consumers and patients everywhere is that medical research paid for by tax payers does not always revert back into the domain of public health improvement instead of being appropriated by big pharmaceutical companies that convert massive public investment into the marketing of overpriced medicines . It begs the question: what happens to most of the medical inventions financed directly or indirectly with billions of dollars/euros of public money given to research programmes both in the EU and the US? Should there not be clear rules that govern the use of patents generated by publicly financed medical research?

TACD hopes that these first  positive steps on the road to accessible, affordable essential medicines for all are a turning point in the campaign for global access to medicine. Now is not the time to talk of social responsibility or solidarity; it is the time to act to make UNITAID a viable life-saving alternative for millions of human beings.

David Hammerstein, TACD, Brussels

3 comments for “Put your patents where your mouths are

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