Economy

Will India-US MoU on healthcare make drugs more accessible?

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on February 25, 2020 Published on February 26, 2020

India and US signed two Memoranda of Understanding in the healthcare space — relating to mental health and drug safety — on Tuesday in New Delhi .

Government sources said that while there is lack of understanding and caring for mental and emotional issues as healthcare issues, in the US there exists a strong culture of researching and treating mental and emotional well being issues as health care issues. “This MoU will enable us to learn from US experience in this field. This will facilitate a greater access of Indian traditional therapies and medicines to the large US market,” they said.

US President Donald Trump emphasised on making efforts to reduce prescription drug prices and also stressed on safety of medical products. To buttress the point, he cited the Fentanyl addiction crisis globally. Fentanyl is an addictive pain medication that can be illicitly used for recreational purposes.

Two MoUs signed

On one hand Trump said that prescription drug prices should be reduced as the US signed an MoU to strengthen co-operation on generic medicine regime. At the same time, another MoU is proposed on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) during the visit, which may in future have a direct bearing on protecting international drug patents that some experts termes may have detrimental effect on patient rights. Currently, the proposed IPR MoU is being referred to as a knowledge sharing agreement where Indian and US representatives will travel to each other’s countries to study IPR laws.

Many life-saving drugs for tuberculosis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis are patented and highly expensive in India. Due to the non-implementation of the Section 3 D, anti-evergreening provisions in the patent law, these patented drugs have more than one patent on them resulting in extension of monopoly in the market and exorbitant prices.

“Despite being aware of the socio-economic conditions in India and role of such public interest provisions in the patents law in ensuring access to affordable generic medicines for people, the US has incessantly criticised these provisions in the Indian patent law and consistently placed India in their ‘Priority Watch List’ under Special 301 Report, indicating that Indian patent law provisions negatively impact the commercial interest of US multi-national corporations,” according to a statement released by Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Training of patent examiners

Experts also stated that it appears that the US-India MoU involves training of patent examiners. “Usually, such trainings are one-sided, that is, US will train Indian patent examiners regarding the examination process in the light of US patent laws instead of Indian Patents Act. These trainings are designed to change the examination process to achieve granting patent applications as in US. Further these trainings dilute the public interest provisions in the Indian patent law,” the JSA statement said.

A recent study indicated that 72 per cent of pharmaceutical patents granted in India are for minor or marginal improvements on existing drugs which contravene the present Indian Patents Act. The study also said the public interest provisions are not implemented by the Indian patent office, which is in line with US interests.

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Published on February 26, 2020
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