Double standards

The US government procures generic drugs for anthrax from a non-patent holder

Published: Friday 30 November 2001

the issue of access to drugs has shifted from anti aids drugs in Africa to anti anthrax drugs in the us. The us government is contemplating to override the patent on Ciprofloxacin, which is held by the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer and procure generic copies from other sources.

This move would ensure that enough of the antibiotic is available to protect the us citizens exposed to the bacterium that causes anthrax. The move also exposes the duplicity of the us government regarding the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (trips) agreement wherein a country cannot import drugs from anyone other than the patent holder.

"This would clearly demonstrate that the us has been bullying and bulldozing the developing countries regarding access to aids drugs," says Akshay Khanna, senior project officer, Lawyers Collective, a non governmental organisation working on public interest issues like health.

The us government has medicines to treat only two million people whereas 12 million people need the drugs. It has already contacted Ranbaxy Laboratories of India to find whether the company would be able to provide the drug. "Ranbaxy is ready to ship the drug in December," says Deepak Chatterraj, head of the us branch of Ranbaxy

Till now, the us had prevented the African countries from buying anti-aids drugs from cheaper sources while supporting pharmaceuticals holding actual patents of anti-aids drugs. But now the us is buying anti-anthrax drugs from Ranbaxy, which is not a patent holder of anti-anthrax drug.

For the us a loophole in the trips agreement would come in handy. trips says that a country can buy the generic copies in case of a national emergency. And considering the spread of anthrax paranoia, the us could show that the anthrax scare constitutes a national emergency.

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