Representational Image. Image Coutesy: The Asian Age
New Delhi: The participation of senior officials from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) in a meeting in the US organised by the American biopharmaceutical industry lobbying group has raised concerns among the activists in the public health sector.
Expressing their concern, various civil society groups and activists, including All India Drug Action Network, National Working Group on Patent Laws, Drug Action Forum – Karnataka, Swasthya Adhikar Manch, Dr. Arun Gupta, Convener of Alliance Against Conflict of Interest and Raman V R, Public Health Practitioner have written a letter to health minister JP Nadda, flagging the possibility of ‘undue influence’ by big pharma companies.
The 13th Annual BioPharma & Healthcare Summit organised by the USA-India Chamber of Commerce (USAIC) is being held on May 9 in Boston, US. According to the letter by the health activists, “USAIC is a biopharmaceutical industry lobbying group whose membership is dominated by pharmaceutical transnational corporations.”
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The agenda of USAIC Summit is dominated by transnational companies and their interests, they said. “These kinds of conferences are often used for lobbying and advancing industry interests. The participation of policy makers and regulators in such meetings sends a wrong signal and increases the Indian Government’s vulnerability to undue corporate influence from pharmaceutical transnational corporations on India’s policy making and regulations,” the letter said.
The letter also drew the minister’s attention to the fact that “most of the companies in USAIC are also members of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade group representing the US pharmaceutical industry. These corporations, through their lobbies, often attack India’s intellectual property regime and drug regulations.”
Recently, PhRMA submitted a 2019 Special 301 review to the US Trade Representative and that contained several “illegitimate complaints and accusations” against India, including in relation to Section 3(d) of the Patents Act, use of TRIPS flexibilities, price controls on medical devices and pharmaceuticals, clinical trial regulations and absence of data exclusivity. The report also sought regulatory changes “that would introduce a system of ‘patent linkage’ through a backdoor route and block the entry of generics (incidentally, the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) is pushing the same proposal directly with the CDSCO).”
The 2019 Special 301 Report was a reflection of many of the demands from the biopharmaceutical industry which spreads blatant lies and wrong propaganda against India, with a motive to undermine the image of India’s generic industry, the letter said, citing the example of the 2019 report that raises objections about patentability criteria and Section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act, the potential use of compulsory licensing by India, and presses for the adoption data exclusivity. Moreover, it also advances the industry demand for ‘patent linkage’ to be introduced in India, the letter pointed out.
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As per the activists, the timing of the Ministry’s participation in the USAIC summit is particularly fraught given the recent publication of the Special 301 Report as well as statements made by US Commerce Secretary Ross on May 7, 2019 about market access barriers faced by US companies. His report also cited Indian price controls on medical devices and pharmaceuticals as ‘obstacles’ for US companies. It is important to note that the Indian government has indicated that it may be willing to relax price regulations on medical devices and dilute price caps that were imposed on coronary stents and knee implants, in response to the US pressure.
“Therefore, we urge you to take note of our concerns regarding the participation of MOHFW officials in the USAIC Summit and to take measures to prevent the undue influence of business associations such as PhRMA, US-India Business Council, USAIC on policy making. We also urge you to put in place formal rules to avoid participation in such lobbying events,” urged the letter.
The letter urged the Indian government not to succumb to pressure from US Government and pharmaceuticals corporations that would compromise affordable healthcare in India.