In a historic judgment that could have positive effects for patients worldwide, India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the lives of patients are more important than the patent rights of trans-national drug companies. The landmark ruling that gave relief to cancer patients will help them to continue to buy life-saving drugs under their generic names.
The Supreme Court ruled that the modification of a well-known cancer-fighting drug was not a patentable new invention. The judgment allows Indian suppliers to continue making generic varieties of Swiss firm Novartis’ Glivec or gleevec which has been known to fight chronic blood cancer effectively. While the Novartis drug costs more than Indian Rs. 100,000/= a month-- with doctors often advising patients to take it life-long, the generic equivalents cost less than one tenth. The ruling will be a relief to some 400,000 Indian patients who are currently taking the drug.
The trans-national drug companies are known to be one of the biggest profit-making trades in the world. Professor Carlo Fonseka, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, gave some shocking details about these trans-national drug companies when he spoke at a workshop held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute on March 27.
Prof. Fonseka said that according to the latest information trans-national drug companies were high on the list of the Fortune 500 list of the richest companies in the world. The ten trans-national drug companies had made an annual profit of a staggering 36 billion US dollars, while the other 490 companies in the Fortune 500 list had together made a profit of 34 billion US dollars.
In a talk titled “The truth about drug companies, how they are deceiving us and what we could do about it,” Prof. Fonseka debunked the claims by the TNCs that most of the hundreds of billions of dollars in profits that they made went for research and development(R and D). He said he had figures to show that while a small part of the profits went for the so-called R and D, a much bigger amount went for marketing. This is where the tragic truth comes out. Under trade laws in most countries, drug companies cannot advertise their products in the media. Then how and where do they do their marketing? Hundreds of billions of dollars, plundered from unsuspecting patients, go to provide souvenirs and samples, sponsorship of various conferences, scholarships abroad for medical consultants and their families, and the pleasure cruises. This form of glorified bribery is also extended to top health officials.
That is the main reason why the implementation of the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) – whereby patients could get quality drugs at affordable prices – has been delayed by about eight years by the government. In 2009 the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court saying that the health Ministry by delaying the implementation of the NMDP was denying the people the right to good health. Every two or three months, a senior state counsel comes to the SC and promises that the NMDP will be presented “soon” but that soon has dragged on for more than four years and health action groups are wondering who has derailed or sabotaged it and why.