The Indian government’s ongoing assault on pharmaceutical IP makes these findings even more significant. Over the past two years, India has invalidated or otherwise attacked patents on 15 drugs produced by international firms in order to make way for local champions, claiming that exclusivity enables companies to charge high prices that harm consumers. Allowing local producers to copy patented medicines, officials assert, will bring down prices and expand access.
However, drug patents and prices are not the main — or even a major — obstacle to patients’ access to medical care in India. The bigger issue, as the IMS consultancy found last year, is the shortage of doctors, clinics and hospitals, especially in rural areas. Even the public clinics and hospitals that do exist are often rendered useless by high rates of absenteeism by doctors. Medicine, however affordable, is of no value if no one is available to prescribe or administer it.
Furthermore, Indians lack access to insurance programs, particularly for outpatient care. This, coupled with the lack of a public safety net, makes health problems a leading source of economic hardship, even for middle-class families. Far from improving citizens’ access to healthcare, weak IP protections are exacerbating India’s formidable healthcare challenges.
It is time for India’s leaders to recognize the positive role that IP can play in fostering growth and improving citizens’ well-being. It is equally important for trade negotiators worldwide to reject the notion that IP protection is a luxury that only rich countries can afford. The reality is that IP protection is an economic engine that citizens of developing countries should not have to forgo.
Rod Hunter, a senior director for international economics on former US president George W. Bush’s National Security Council, is a senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Copyright: Project Syndicate