Wednesday, February 02, 2011

OFXAM report critical of fight against counterfeit medicines

A new report from OXFAM criticizes the battle against fake drugs in the developing world. The assumptions are that the fake drugs could do harm to people using it, so authorities work to get these drugs off of the streets. The OXFAM report warns that efforts to remove fake drugs actually do little to stop their trade on the black market.

From the Guardian, health reporter Sarah Boseley details the report.

Fake drugs and sub-standard drugs, such as antibiotics with too little of the active ingredient to do any good, are sold all over the developing world. They can do real harm, but the strategy against counterfeits will not stop much of that trade, according to Oxfam, because its focus is to strengthen the patent system. Patents prevent legal copies of new drugs from being made for a period of up to 20 years - but many of the fake and sub-standard drugs going around in Africa and Asia are not in patent anyhow.

Oxfam says rich countries, which are pushing for stronger patents in the interest of the pharmaceutical companies which contribute to their GDP, should instead be helping poor countries to strengthen their drug regulatory and policing systems. This is how Rohit Malpani, senior policy adviser, puts it:

Poor countries are facing a crisis of substandard and falsified medicines that can harm or even kill those who take them. Yet rather than help poor countries address the problem to ensure safe, effective and quality medicines for all, rich countries are putting commercial interests ahead of public health in these countries.

The European Union and the United States continue to focus almost exclusively on eliminating counterfeit medicines which form only a small part of this public health problem – but which are a serious concern for their multinational companies. They have used the crisis in medicine quality in developing countries as an excuse to push for new intellectual property rules that will boost the profits of pharmaceutical giants at the expense of affordable medicines for the poor.

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