Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders have called the negotiating countries for upcoming Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement to reject terms that could potentially harm access to medicines for its citizens.
With 16 countries preparing to meet for RCEP trade agreement set to be held in Tianjin, China, from October 17-21, international medical humanitarian organisation MSF that works in nearly 70 countries across the world, seeks to warn negotiating partners of being cautious of the agreements that could lead to potential harms to the medical and healthcare sector of each country. Based on the leaked draft of the RCEP agreement, Leena Menghaney, Head-South Asia, MSF Access Campaign, suggested, “Proposed provisions such as data exclusivity are still under negotiation in RCEP, and are just another form of prolonging monopolies. By delaying the registration of generic versions of a medicine by several years, data exclusivity will effectively give a backdoor monopoly status to pharmaceutical corporations, even for older drugs that do not deserve a patent.”
According to MSF, terms of the agreement could also cut provisions in ensuring affordable access to medicines, particularly in developing countries where most of MSF’s operations are based, and also premature adoption of patents.
Countries have been urged to uphold the recommendations of the recent report issued by the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines, which warns of the harmful effects that trade agreements can have on access to medicines if certain terms are included.
The WHO Director-General Margaret Chan acknowledges the negative impact of trade agreements on access to affordable generic medicines. “Some member states have expressed concern that trade agreements currently under negotiation could significantly reduce access to affordable generic medicines. If these agreements open trade yet close access to affordable medicines, we have to ask: Is this really progress at all, especially with the costs of care soaring everywhere?” she wondered.
India as a source
“Hundreds of thousands of people diagnosed with HIV and tuberculosis in MSF projects are today alive and healthy, thanks to affordable Indian generic medicines. This would not have been possible without the progressive health safeguards in India’s patent system that protect and encourage generic competition,” said Peter Paul de Groote, General Director of MSF India. “We call on the countries negotiating the RCEP agreement to remove all harmful provisions from this trade deal that could jeopardise access to lifesaving, affordable medicines sourced from India. Millions of lives across the developing world are at stake in this trade deal.”
India has been nicknamed as the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’ owing to large production of generic medicines, and supply of life-saving, affordable medicines for communicable and noncommunicable diseases to Sub-Saharan Africa and many other developing countries, which is essential for the operation of MSF and initiatives including Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and UNICEF. The price of first-generation antiretroviral medicines has been brought down by 99 pc in the past ten years due to generic competition in India, allowing developing countries to scale up their HIV/AIDS treatment to an estimated 17 million people by 2016.
Thus, the issue of India’s inclusion in agreement becomes particularly crucial, as it is seen as the lifeline for many developing countries. “If India signs up to a bad deal for access to medicines in the RCEP agreement, its production and export of generic medicines will be threatened,” said Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy & Analysis for MSF’s Access Campaign, adding, ” I hope the countries negotiating the RCEP trade agreement have paid attention to this report’s recommendations and will think twice before signing a deal that will be bad for access to medicines.”