April 14, 2005

The Patent Act 2005 - The genesis of uneasiness & then the quest

I wish I had written more often - especially in the last three months. It would have eased the weariness, the anger, the helplessness and sadness within, which threatened to overwhelm me during this period. It all began when the patent ordinance was promulgated by the Indian government on Sunday, 26th December amending the Patent Act 1970, in accordance with the WTO (World Trade Organisation). The people of India were reeling then after the Tsunami’s fury. In January 2005, the Minister of Commerce said on television that 97% of essential drugs would not come under the ordinance. Only 3% of drugs would be patented, he said. My family started feeling uneasy and worried. Would drugs for treating schizophrenia be included in the 3%? The quest then began. I contacted the Ministry of Commerce and asked them for the list of 3% drugs which would be patented and the list of essential drugs which would not be patented. I was told to contact the Ministry of Industrial Promotion & Policy. They said they did not know and to contact Ministry of Patents. There I was told to speak to the Under Secretary, ‘the architect of the patent amendment’ as one of them said. The Under Secretary enthusiastically talked about patented software, patented detergents which would be cheaper and available to all in India. When I asked him about the impact on the prices of drugs he said, ‘Most people in India do not have enough food to live on. How could they think about drugs? Food is a far more important issue. Who will worry about medicines when they don’t have food? Have you thought about that...’ he went on and on. When I asked me to give me the list of drugs, he told me to contact the Health Ministry. The Health Ministry told me to contact the Drug controller of India.

The corridors of the building where the drug controller of India sits are dusty and daunting. I was amazed that this gentleman had agreed to talk to me for half an hour for mental illness is still regarded even by the most educated in India - as the result of moral failings or poor will power. Most people do not know that they are legitimate illnesses that are responsive to medical treatment. The drug controller fortunately was aware of the nature of these illnesses of the brain. However when I showed him the difference in prices of the generic drugs manufactured in India with the prices of patented drugs in USA, he was taken aback.(Patented drugs are upto hundred times costlier) The prices of the drugs in USA were mailed to me by a wonderful, understanding mother in Oregon who spent days on the road to get the prices of various second generation patented drugs. I had met this mother on this site and she understood so well our fears. However the meeting with the drug controller did not allay these fears. Although punctual and polite, he looked harried but gave some answers. He said that some drugs will become costlier ... Phase II and Phase I clinical trials are not being done in India... Government cannot buy patents unless there is a health emergency, otherwise it could get into litigation with the drug companies. He got impatient when I repeatedly asked him about the impact of the ordinance on the prices of drugs for treating serious mental illness. It was a strange meeting for a chord was struck when I told him that the legacy we wanted to leave behind was not the same as other mortals – we wanted our loved ones to have access to drugs that would enable them and reduce their suffering. He said that he had a relative who suffered from this illness. The meeting of half an hour stretched to an hour as we talked about a common struggle. I could gather that the pricing of drugs involved six ministries and there seemed to be a lot of confusion since the ordinance had not been tabled in parliament. He told his secretary to take me to the office of the National Consultant of Mental health which was in another room in the same building. This was during the month of January. I shall write about that later for its almost 2 a.m. today.

Posted by survivor at April 14, 2005 02:21 AM


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