Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Issues with patents for AIDS drugs

Back in May 2004, there was a flurry of excitement when Amir Attaran published work suggesting that poverty, not patents, was the principal problem creating lack of access to AIDS drugs in third-world countries.

Amir Attaran, a fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London finds that patents are largely a non-issue when it comes to treating the world's poor. His findings, out this week, follow earlier research on drug access in poor countries he published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new study, in the journal Health Affairs, concludes that "in sixty-five low and middle income countries, where four billion people live, patenting is rare for the 319 products on the World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Medicines." Attaran points out that "only seventeen essential medicines are patentable, although usually not actually patented, so that overall patent incidence is low."

Attaran suggests the reason patenting is so uncommon is THAT "in very poor, low-income developing countries, particularly in Africa, annual drug spending may be $2 or less per person. With so little revenue at stake, most drug companies decided to forgo patent protection in these countries."

The significance of these findings becomes obvious when one considers what many global health activists and their friends in the media have been saying for years, arguing that patents are a chief obstacle to fighting disease effectively. Their beef is that the enforcement of drug patent protection in Africa and elsewhere prices the world's poor out of the market. Patents, in short, are killers.


This discussion in May 2004 had been going on for some time (e.g.,
2001 article in;

There has not been that much discussion of the AIDS/patents interface recently. [But see post on blogspot:]

UPDATE 23 Sept 2005:

In the first few years after federal regulators approved the influenza-fighting pill Tamiflu in 1999, the drug suffered from lackluster sales and indifference from U.S. health officials more focused on creating new vaccines.

Now, demand for Tamiflu is outstripping supply.

The drug's sales have skyrocked in recent months as a major U.S. vaccine supplier failed to meet half the nation's needs and the World Health Organization, worried about the threat of a worldwide bird flu epidemic, urges governments to stockpile anti-viral drugs.

That's touched off a nasty dispute between two drug companies that are fighting for control of the pill's growing profits - even as U.S. health experts fret about inadequate Tamiflu stockpiles and Third World countries threaten to ignore U.S. patents and make generic versions of the drug.


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