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The Real Barriers to Accessing Affordable Medicines
Monday, August 30, 2010 5:21 pm | By Kelsey Zahourek

In today’s WSJ Europe, International Policy Network’s Alec van Gelder, has a great op-ed on intellectual property rights and access to medicines. In the opinion piece, he rightfully criticizes activist groups and international NGO’s who continue to promote the expropriation of patent rights through the use of compulsory licenses.

Compulsory licenses are permits granted by a government to use patents, copyrighted works or other types of intellectual property for a specific purpose, in this case to bring medicines to poorer countries in the midst of a public health crisis. While no one denies the importance of delivering safe, affordable drugs to the world’s poor, the route by which many are calling to take is paved with harmful consequences that affect the future of research and development on these critical drugs.

A great deal has been written on this site about how weak IP rights negatively affect the economy. However, beyond the detriment to the economy, weakening IPR’s also puts the public’s health and safety at risk. The medicines that patients are using today, whether patented or generic are available because of laws that encourage innovation. The use of compulsory licenses only serves to discourage the investment of billions of dollars pharmaceutical manufacturers currently put into R & D of the next generation of life-saving medicines. Additionally, countries with weak patent rules have been linked on many occasions with sub-standard or counterfeit products.

In the piece, van Gelder outlines the real barriers to acquiring affordable drugs writing:

“The real public health problems on the ground have little to do with intellectual property rights and the cost of drugs. Rather, in the world's poorest countries the sick and the dying are being failed by the lack of investment in domestic health care infrastructure. At July's African Union summit, leaders were confronted with WHO figures showing that only six member countries have met their 2001 pledge to invest 15% of their national output on health care.”

“The real global public health problem is that for every aid dollar African governments receive for health care they divert up to $1.14 of their own resources to other areas. And aid for health care more than doubled from $8 billion in 1995 to $19 billion in 2006.”

What is more, if compulsory licenses are to be issued, many factories in African countries are incapable of meeting the minimum quality standards for the medicine, increasing the risk of creating drug-resistant strains of the world’s most dangerous viruses.

Governments need to first look at its own policies that create barriers to the delivery of affordable medicines before going after “Big Pharma.”
 

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Another Unneeded Regulation on the Table: Cough Medicines
Friday, August 27, 2010 10:49 am | By Katerina Bricker

At the beginning of August, American’s for Tax Reform sent a letter to the FDA's Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Board expressing concern over a proposed rulemaking to regulate the ingredient, Dextromethorphan, in cough medicines. The regulation is in response to worries that the drug is widely abused, despite the fact the drug has long been considered safe by the FDA and the significant measures taken by manufacturers to label and educate consumers.

The drive to push certain cough medicines behind the counter carries with it significant cost increases. As the letter states, “Pushing a drug that is safe and properly labeled behind the counter will also increase health care costs, at a time when consumers are already facing increased taxes and costs on their medical care.”
 
What’s more, the proposed rulemaking poses serious threats to trademarks. Consumers make purchases largely through association with a brand’s trademark. When you have a need and then go to the store to fulfill that need you always want to see the product. If you are searching for a pair of running shoes you go to the store and look at them. You are able to hold and see what they are like right away, thus making it easier to make a purchase. Medicines behind the counter are harder for consumers to identify with. A consumer would have to go ask the pharmacist about the medicine and then look at it there. If some of the cough medicines are behind the counter and some are not, then it will be tough for the companies whose product contains Dextromethorphan to sell their product.
 
Forcing certain cough medicines that contain Dextromethorphan behind the counter creates an unnecessary regulatory burden that impinges on the rights of manufacturers, increases costs on consumers, and will do little to curb the perceived abuse of the drug. I encourage you to follow this issue at www.atr.org.

 

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The Real Blight in Montgomery
Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:35 pm | By Cassandra Baker

As if eminent domain – in which the government seizes one’s property and pays what it sees as “just compensation” – wasn’t bad enough, city officials in Montgomery, Ala. have discovered a loophole that allows them to condemn and demolish private residences without compensation, leaving the owner to foot the bill or else face a lien on the property.
 
Alabama, which took a stand in favor of private property rights five years ago by outlawing eminent domain except for publicly-funded projects, allows exceptions for the seizure of blighted properties. Under the law, buildings can be demolished “due to poor design, obsolescence, or neglect” if they can have an effect on public safety such as mold contamination or are structurally weak and prone to collapse.
 
This loophole, however, is now being exploited by Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who is hoping to attract higher-income developers to the city’s famous Civil Rights Trail at the expense of the lower-income families who currently live there. Mayor Strange has said that by condemning these properties, he is cleaning up the city and making the neighborhood safer for all residents, but the citizens who have had their homes destroyed aren’t buying it. Several residents who have had their houses declared “in disrepair” have teamed with the Institute for Justice and are fighting back against the Montgomery City Council to protect their basic right to private property.
 
 
If the Montgomery city officials are allowed to decide, willy-nilly, which houses are threats to public safety and which houses are not, who is to say that the government can’t tear down your house simply because someone didn’t like it? Instead of punishing these families for not living up to some arbitrary standard of housing, perhaps the city of Montgomery could take care of the true blight – politicians like Todd Strange who favor the potential of increased revenues over the well-being of his city’s citizens.

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