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In the past decade, BRICS countries – in addition to emerging markets like Kenya, South Korea, Cuba, Egypt and others – have aggressively pushed their research and development in the pharmaceutical industry to offer cheap generic drugs to their populations.
This development has been covered by the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the 2001 Doha Declaration which said that TRIPS will consider the rights of developing nations “to promote access to medicines for all”.
Big pharmaceutical companies, however, say they are losing billions in sales of what are proprietary medicines.
In November 2016, the United Nations discussed a September report from its High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines which was mandated “to review and assess proposals and recommend solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies.”
The report leaned in favor of developing countries in providing cheaper drugs.
In the final findings:
The new report noted with grave concern reports of governments being subjected to undue political and economic pressure to forgo the use of TRIPS flexibilities. The Panel felt strongly that this pressure undermines the efforts of governments to meet their human rights and public health obligations and violates the integrity and legitimacy of the Doha Declaration.
The report also recommended punishments for entities which use political and trade policy pressure to restrict the flexibilities afforded to developing countries under TRIPS.
Major global pharmaceutical companies, which are mostly based in the EU and the US, have pressured their governments to use trade provisions during negotiations with developing countries to push intellectual property rights and strengthen drug patents.
But BRICS countries are in agreement about protecting the flexibility provisions in TRIPS and largely support the UN’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines.
Last December during the 6th BRICS Health Ministers’ Meeting, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare J.P. Nadda urged fellow members to place public health goals above trade deal priorities.
“Trade regimes are important, but must be seen as being subservient to the shared international public health goals,” he said.
BRICS Health Ministers concluded their meeting in Delhi in December by reiterating their commitment to make full use of the flexibilities of TRIPS to promote access to medicines.
They also pledged to insist on the inclusion of TRIPS flexibilities in bilateral and regional trade agreements in the interest of public health.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies