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A new Free Trade Agreement between India and the EU is threatening to deny millions of people – both in India and around the developing world – access to affordable medication:
Meanwhile, in Brussels, negotiations continued on a trade agreement that would raise prices on Indian-made pharmaceuticals. The drugs that India manufactures have helped five millions people living with HIV to maintain their health, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Frontiers).
“More than 80 percent of the AIDS drugs our medical practitioners use to treat 175,000 people in developing countries are affordable generics from India,” said MSF spokesperson Paul Cawthorne, the article said. Cawthorne said that HIV patients were not the only ones to benefit from the lower cost of India-made generics. “Beyond AIDS, we rely on producers in India for drugs to treat other illnesses, such as tuberculosis and malaria,” Cawthorne explained. “We can not afford to let our patients’ lifeline be cut.”
The EU is seeking more protections on intellectual property, including “data exclusivity” provisions that would extend to drugs that are no longer protected from generic brands by patent limitations.
“It would be a colossal mistake to introduce data exclusivity in India, when millions of people across the globe depend on the country as the ’pharmacy of the developing world,’ ” UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Anand Grover said.
Delhi has seen large protests in recent weeks, as people dependent on the generic Indian formulations have fought to protect their access to affordable medicine. The rationale behind the restrictions is as reprehensible as it is transparent. Beholden to the sacred profit motive, corporations will seek increased earnings over all other consideration. The concept of “intellectual property,” and the immense profits associated with it, trumps the value of the human lives that otherwise would be saved.
Here we have a blatant example of capitalism hindering the progress of human development, and overtly creating suffering and death in its wake. Why is that information that can be saved lives is viewed only in terms of the potential profit that it might create for a few immensely wealthy multi-national corporations? The knowledge and means exist to save millions of people around the world with affordable, readily available medications, and yet this knowledge will be restricted in the interest of making more money. People will die as a direct consequence, and yet this is accepted as simply part of the capitalist way.
Capitalism, as I’ve pointed out many times before, is an inhumane system that is ultimately doomed to failure. It is also a barbaric system, one that relies on the principles Darwinism -the law of the jungle – in order to progress. Under such a system, progress is severely limited. We can only go so far if profit for an elite few is our only motivation for doing anything in life.
It is often argued that companies – such as those in the pharmaceutical industry – would have no motivation to research and develop new life-saving medications if there were not the potential to reap massive profits. Clearly, this is not the case. Human beings have always been motivated by an innate sense of curiosity, an inherent thirst for knowledge and understanding of the world around them, and a perpetual need for creative expression.
These irrevocable aspects of human nature are motivation enough to drive sustained progress on a scale we have never before witnessed. Give any human being the opportunity, and he will strive to do everything in his power to contribute to the human knowledge base, and help his fellow humans in any way he can.
In stark contrast, the capitalist system is riddled with shortcomings, as the story above aptly demonstrates. Motivated only by selfish greed, humans will prevent the development and well-being of their fellow humans. In addition, they will devote their energy not to the creation of means to better human society, but to ensure a consistent income. Consider, for example, the case of HIV. With today’s current medication, HIV has largely been rendered a chronic disease, rather than the death sentence it was just 15 years ago. But there is still no cure, and the literature suggests that no cure is even on the distant horizon.
Although in the case of HIV this can be attributed to the notorious adaptability of the virus, it is also worth pointing out that pharmaceutical companies stand to gain more if HIV remains a chronic rather than curable disease. Curing the disease entails perhaps a one-time treatment, while retaining chronic status guarantees a lifetime consumer of their products. Clearly, the profit motive has major shortcomings in the long view of social progress. Unless we wish to remain indefinitely in the adolescence of our species, it is imperative that we adopt a less counterproductive world view.