After months of negotiation, the public has spoken. Public health outcry surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) resounds online, in print and on television.

“We have raised our voice as loudly as we can,” said Manica Balasegaram, executive director of Doctors Without Borders’ (DWB) access campaign. “This is a terrible deal for access to affordable medicines.”

The idea behind campaigns like the one headed by DWB is to remove the intellectual property laws (many pertaining to pharmaceuticals that treat life-threatening conditions) from the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP).

As it stands, according to a November 13 Wikileak, the TPP would seek to extend the patent on brand-name pharmaceuticals an additional five years (delaying the onset of cheaper generic drugs that compete with brand-names), as well as 12 years of “data exclusivity” for biologic drugs, of which include many cancer and multiple sclerosis therapies.

While these intellectual property rights are sure-fire ways to keep pharmaceutical prices high—even unreachable for many in developing countries—defenders of the TPP laud them as ways to improve health, not hamper it.

The first line of the secret TPP document that was leaked by Julian Assange in 2013 decries that the thought process behind these intellectual property laws is to “enhance the role of intellectual property in promoting economic and social development in relation to the new digital economy, technological innovation, and transfer the dissemination of technology and trade.”

As increases in antibiotic resistance demands more innovation in pharmaceuticals, they remove incentives for Big Pharma to pursue antibiotic options (data shows that the more times you use these antibiotics, the less effective they are, so profits are capped).

Beneath this intellectual property clause that is a roadblock to doctors and patients everywhere, lies a real problem–how can we incentivize further development of life-saving antibiotic therapies?

The best way our society knows how to incentivize something is to monetize it. The idea of writing hours of code at a computer was abhorrent, for many, until Bill Gates and Steve Jobs turned personal computers into million-dollar industries.

The intellectual property laws surrounding pharmaceuticals (especially, antibiotics) exist to serve this purpose—to create an industry that is robust, profitable and differentiated.

It is even present in the existing TRIPS free trade agreement which guarantees some intellectual property laws in free trade agreements, even providing special waivers to certain developing countries that exempt them having to abide by pharmaceutical patents until at least January 2016.

“The LDC waivers [exemption from TRIPS-sponsored patent law for drugs] are among the important flexibilities available in the TRIPs agreement,” wrote a UNAID 2012 report.

“Retaining the flexibility to adapt intellectual property law and policy to meet national development objected has facilitated the development of robust generic industries such as India and Brazil. Generic competition, primarily from Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers, has been one of the key factors in the dramatic decrease in prices of…medicines for HIV treatment.”

If the TPP must go through, which according to some reports will happen before the dawn of the 2016 election year, the TRIP waiver program has already given us the skeleton of a tool to combat it.

If intellectual property rights for biologic therapies and drugs in the US are to be tightened, the extension of the waivers for generic development elsewhere may be necessary.

Diversify the market–let the developing nations step in with their own budding pharmaceutical industries and mollify the situation that the TPP has the power to create.

Emma Betuel

Sources: UNITAID, UNAIDS, About News, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), WikiLeaks, Health Affairs, Center for American Progress
Photo: Pixabay

Two years into a ban on polio vaccinations implemented by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban branch, the number of cases of children with polio in Pakistan has risen dramatically. Compared to 58 cases in 2012 and 72 in 2013, there are 257 cases in 2014 so far.

The ban was put into place in northern Pakistan, or the tribal belt where the Taliban has control, in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes in the area. The group says it will lift the ban when the strikes stop.

Polio only remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. At the height of infection, polio affected over 350,000 people. In 2013, there were 416 polio cases reported worldwide. Projections say this number will rise in 2014, largely because of an extreme uptick in cases in Pakistan.

Pakistan has been very aggressive in the eradication of polio efforts, with health workers going as far as setting up roadblocks for vaccine stops and boarding public buses and trains to vaccinate any child that looks to be under five years of age. The country also runs regular vaccination campaigns in both its rural and urban regions, reaching hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of days.

Nonetheless, Pakistani health officials estimate that there are roughly 300,000 children living in the tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistani border that are missing their vaccinations. This region is largely rural and in extreme poverty.

The TTP has stemmed the number of children receiving polio vaccinations by using propaganda and bans against vaccinations, as well as committing violence against health workers. Since 2012, 61 health workers and accompanying security personnel have been killed in Pakistan and countless attacks and instances of intimidation have occurred. TTP claims responsibility for most of these actions.

Much of the pushback against vaccinations stems from a mistrust of the West and the U.S. after a CIA operation was revealed that involved a Pakistani doctor named Shakil Afridi. Afridi pretended to conduct a vaccination campaign while looking for information on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. This, coupled with dangerous and consistent drone strikes, gives the Taliban enough firepower to shoot down any vaccination campaigns.

Because of violence, poverty and insecurity along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the north, many people have moved farther into Pakistan, raising the risk of more cases of polio in unvaccinated children.

Caitlin Huber 

Sources: The News Tribe, Bloomberg, New York Times, NPR, CTC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, WHO
Photo: Flickr