The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of the Government of India has recently initiated a public debate through a ‘Discussion Paper on Compulsory Licensing (CL) of Patented Pharmaceutical Products’.
The key intent of the discussion is presumably to improve access to quality medicines at an affordable price to the people of the country.
Could such debate serve any meaningful purpose?
Since the issue of CL involves only patented products, I wonder, whether this debate would in any way help sorting out the issue of poor access to modern medicines in our country or this is just another ‘hog wash’ or ‘diversion ploy’ of the decision makers to divert the attention of the stakeholders from the core issues of poor access to healthcare for the common man of India.
Will CL be able to address abysmally poor access to medicines issues in India?
A quick analysis of the prevailing situation related to access to modern medicines in India suggests that the usage of patented pharmaceutical products account for much less than 1% of the sum total of all medicines consumed in India in value terms. In volume terms it will be even more miniscule in terms of percentage.
As per IMS (MAT July, 2010) Indian Pharmaceutical Market size is Rs. 44,476 Crore, even 1% market share of the patented pharmaceutical products will mean Rs. 445 Crore, which is quite far from reality.
Thus, CL of patented medicines would have no sustainable and meaningful impact on improving access to modern medicines for the common man of the country. Moreover, around 40% of the population of India live below the poverty line (BPL). These ‘Children of a lesser God‘ very unfortunately, will not be able to afford any price of medicine, however cheap these could be. Vast majority of the such population who lack the financial capability to pay for even the cheapest off-patent generic medicines, which comprise more than 99% of the total medicines consumed within the country, will continue to be left in the lurch.
65% of Indians do not have access to WHO list of essential medicines, which surpasses even the African countries:
Our government also admits that 65% of Indians do not have access to even WHO list of essential medicines, none of which holds a valid patent in the country. This should be the key concern in the country. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that during 2000-2007, India had poorer access to essential medicines than even many African countries. It is worth noting that many of these African countries has a patent life for pharmaceuticals for around 30 years, against of 20 years in India. What are we then talking about?
Provisions of CL in the Indian Patents Acts are robust enough:
In any case, the provisions of CL in the Indian Patents Acts are not only quite clear and well articulated, but also at the same time offer flexibility in the decision making process to the Indian Patent Offices (IPOs) to invoke CL in a justifiable situation. Thus proposed guidelines related to CL would possibly invite more questions than answers. Consequently, it will be an extremely complicated process for the IPOs to categorize all the situations related to CL. Therefore, in my view, such initiatives, as initiated by the DIPP to frame guidelines for CL could prove to be totally counterproductive, as such guidelines, as stated above, would seriously limit the flexibility of the IPOs to take appropriate action, even when it would require to do so.
Moreover, it is absolutely imperative for the Government to ensure that the primacy of the patent statutes is not disturbed in any way, as such guidelines related to CL would only be consistent with the appropriate provisions within the statute and cannot be used beyond the Patent Law of the land. It goes without saying that any dispute between the parties related to the interpretation of the provisions within the statute related to CL, should only be resolved by the judiciary.
How could then CL possibly offer answers to the vexing healthcare access issues of the nation? Is the Government not wasting its precious little time, instead of trying to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and resolve the critical ‘access to affordable quality medicines’ issue of India through Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives?
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.