Saturday, 27 April 2013

IP and Public Health, perspectives from PIIPA Seminar

PIIPA, Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors, recently released the slides from their seminar on the Role of Intellectual Property in Public Health.

Africare Suggests IP as an incentive for developing new, affordable medicines

The first set of slides was from Dr. Kechi Achebe of Africare.  For those who are not familiar with Africare, it is a large non-profit organization that focuses on health, agriculture and water and sanitation projects in Africa.  It is one of the oldest NGOs working in Africa and is currently active in 21 countries.

Dr. Kechi explained that “less than half of the patients suffering from infectious diseases are able to access medicine,” and the majority of these people are in Africa and India.  Africare recognizes the benefits of trademark protection in preventing damages from counterfeit medications but has concerns about the higher costs of patented medicines.  Dr. Kechi had a list of recommendations for the relationship of IP and public health:

  • Intellectual property should be managed to promote the
    development of new medicines
  • Intellectual property should provide incentives for
    investment into innovation – development of new
    medicines to make it affordable to the poor
  • All governments would be able to provide – or ensure
    the provision of medicines within the reasonable
    budgetary capacity of the nation
  • Coming decade likely to be characterized by restrained
    government spending, necessitating more efficient
  • Multilateral institutions may assist by promoting
    cooperation among diverse stakeholders
  • NGOs should continue to play a role in drawing attention
    to gaps in access to medicines

Dr. Kechi’s suggestion are such that everyone involved in public health and intellectual property could easily agree on them.  Many of these goals have been long-established.  The problems come when various stakeholders start attempting to plan for reaching these goals.  Not only do stakeholders’ interests collide, but often the goals themselves collide.  For example, intellectual property as a tool to promote development of new medicines and all governments ensuring provision of medicines within reasonable budgetary capacities may be at odds.

America Suggests Same Old Suggestion

Dr. Mark L. Rohrbaugh of the US Office of Technology Transfer at the National Institutes of Health presents, in this American Leo’s view, a very Western solution to IP and Public Health: tiered pricing.  It’s not a new idea and is one that even appears within many IP-related treaties.  Medicines should be introduced first in a developed economy where they can be subjected to appropriate scrutiny and testing and then, after a period of time, released or licensed for manufacture in developing countries at a lower price tier.  Dr. Rohrbaugh acknowledges three countries in Africa that he felt had manufacturing capabilities: Egypt, South Africa and Kenya.

Dr. Rohrbaugh highlights a number of success stories of medications available at lower costs in developing countries and technologies licensed to manufacturing companies in developing countries.  However, despite these examples, Little Leo has doubts about the sustainability of this method.  Most of the problematic diseases in developing countries are tropical diseases found almost exclusively in those countries.  Having tiered pricing systems where developing countries pay below market rates runs the risk of dis-incentivizing the development of the very drugs that are most needed.  Perhaps there’s enough Western-based NGO’s buying medicines for their field workers to support a developed-world market.  Perhaps Little Leo is too cynical…

NIH does participate in technology transfer programs and has an internship program to teach skills necessary for such transfer in developing countries.  More about the program can be found here.

Note: Suzanne Seavello Shope of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also presented on technology transfers.  Her slides are basically examples of successful technology transfers.  There’s a link to the full slides above if anyone’s interested in seeing the examples.

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