Thursday, March 23, 2006

Governments Restrict Access to Healthcare and Prevent Medicine Development

My IPN press release titled Governments Restrict Access to Healthcare and Prevent Medicine Development was publishedon International Policy Network on March 23rd 2006.

London: 50 per cent of people in parts of Africa and Asia have no access to medicines due to harmful government policies, reports the Civil Society Report on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Health. The document produced by 16 civil society organizations from around the world, is being released ahead of a report on a similar theme from the World Health Organization.

Examples of harmful government interventions identified in the report are:

Taxes and tariffs of up to 55 per cent on imported medicines price people out of treatment.

Byzantine and costly registration requirements mean many medicines already approved in the US, EU and Japan are simply not registered in most poor countries because manufacturers cannot justify the investment in registration.

Health insurance is hampered by government regulations, so the poor are unable to obtain insurance and are only able to pay for treatments if they have sufficient savings, or must rely on charity or meagre government healthcare provision.

Price controls - which proponents claim benefit the poor - actually reduce the availability of drugs, especially in distant rural regions, by making it uneconomic for pharmacies to stock them. Even in relatively wealthy South Africa, price controls have led to the closure of scores of rural pharmacies - leaving thousands of poor people without any access to medicines at all.

Inadequate protection for intellectual property in poor countries undermines incentives to invest in R&D for the diseases of poverty by making it more difficult to recover costs. The report found no evidence that intellectual property protection had hampered access to medicines.

Low pay and poor conditions at government run hospitals and clinics mean that a large number of trained medical professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) have emigrated to wealthier countries with better healthcare systems.

The Civil Society report was motivated in part by a concern that the WHO's Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Health, would not address these fundamental issues because of concerns about the response of member governments.

Barun Mitra (Liberty Institute, India), one of the lead authors of the report, said:

"Our report shows that, when it comes to medicines for the diseases of poverty, governments are the main barriers to access and innovation. Intellectual property is an important driver of innovation but in poor countries governments currently prevent people from accessing cheap, generic medicines that could cure many of the diseases they face. In such circumstance, what is the point of producing new drugs for these diseases? Governments must remove the taxes, tariffs and regulations that prevent the sick from getting treatment."

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