MSF Director: 'We are losing the battle' for cheap drugs in developing world

  

José Antonio Bastos, head of doctors without borders (MSF) in Spain, has spoken out against big pharmaceutical companies that "only think in terms of profit" and pay little attention to "real health needs" of the population in developing countries, EurActiv Spain reports.

Generic drugs should be more accessible in the developing world, Bastos told EurActiv. "Even if companies lose a bit of profit, they would gain a lot of public support", he said.

Bastos, a doctor with experience of conflicts in Somalia, Niger, Sudan and Colombia, was reacting to recent remarks by Bayer Chief Executive Officer Marijn Dekkers, who said the German pharmaceutical company did not develop a cancer drug "for Indians ... we developed it for western patients who can afford it".

India and other emerging economies invoke their right to use compulsory licensing of drugs for the local market to bring down costs and provide key medicines for their populations at affordable prices. Among the companies affected by this legislation are Bayer and Novartis.

"Big pharmaceutical companies almost exclusively do research for the profit, this really worries us. We have been fighting during the last ten years for a wider use of generics, for an international recognition of generics, to give developing countries easy access to cheap treatments ... but we are loosing the battle, I am afraid", Bastos said.

To Bastos, between 2000 and 2010 the World witnessed a "golden age" of generic drugs. "During that period big progress was made,” he said. “The best examples of that were Brazil and India, and then it expanded to the rest of the world, with a lot of positive effects. We have managed to reduce mortality ... but all this is now in danger, because of the pharmaceutical lobby."

Big pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to give up their fight against drug licensing in developing countries.

"This is going to be a long and heavy battle, with ups and downs," Bastos said.

MSF contends that the best way to deal with the problem of cheap access to drugs in developing countries could be to find an alternative model for the big giants of the drugs industry.

"Big pharmaceutical companies should not only do research on drugs that can have a potentially high impact on the markets and make profit,” Bastos said. “They should also care about drugs that people really need. They should think about a different model, like the DNDI initiative.”

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