I understand the free market system, I really do. I understand the necessity of incentive and that companies are accountable to their shareholders. I get it. But I also think there are limits.
I recently heard some very convincing arguments for why we should privatize healthcare and save taxpayer money. Those who can afford insurance shouldn’t be responsible for those who can’t. It was hard to hear. Thankfully I then came upon this article by Marc-André Gagnon which reinforced my beliefs that privatizing everything does not lead to the greatest benefits.
He points out that Canada has the fastest rising drug costs in the world, over 10 percent per year. Where is it less expensive? Countries with universal pharmacare (i.e. France, Britain, Sweden). A shift to universal Pharmacare in Canada? Could save at least 2.9 billion (more details in the article).
What I felt was the most significant point in the article was that drugs are not necessarily prescribed because of efficacy but because of drug company promotional campaigns. What we need is a shift to something called ‘evidence-based medicine’, this means drugs are prescribed because they will help you not because they are the latest invention.
BC’s Therapeutics Initiative encourages evidence based medicine:
“Because of this, not only do British Columbians have the best therapeutic choices and the best health outcomes in Canada, they also pay on average 8.2 per cent less per capita for their drugs”
That sounds pretty good to me.
Natasha Ovtcharenko is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto studying Political Science and Human Biology: Global Health. An active member of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines and a research assistant at the Initiative for Drug Equity and Access, she is constantly learning about the different dimensions of intellectual property rights and access to medicines. When not reading up on the latest updates on the EU-India FTA she can be found exploring Toronto’s coffee shops and art galleries.
All this talk about access to medicines brings up the question, who regulates this stuff? Who decides that patents are 20 years long? And who decides that data exclusivity is (usually) around 5-10?
The answer is that it’s largely controlled by the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, conveniently shortened to TRIPS. The agreement is pretty extensive but the gist of it is, patents last 20 years and governments can set the conditions around what qualifies for a patent themselves. MSF sums up that aspect nicely:
“Countries should therefore determine what kind of inventions deserves patents in the area of pharmaceuticals, in light of their own social and economic conditions. Some governments, such as Brazil, Thailand or India, have done precisely that. In today’s world, for many patients, that decision can be a question of life or death. ”
Data exclusivity? Vaguely referred to as “data protection” against “unfair commercial use” with no specific time frame. That’s left a lot of room for negotiation and debate.
The quote from MSF’s Access Campaign and the rest of their TRIPS briefing can be found here
If you’re looking for the most access to medicines friendly party in this election, I’d say the NDP is looking pretty good right now.
Jack Layton has done two monumental things for C-393 so far in my opinion. In the English language debate he noted the audacity of the Senate to block a bill passed by the House of Commons. Then, in his official party platform, he explicitly states that his party will aim to remove the red tape for the export of generics. –> http://www.ndp.ca/platform/leadership-on-world-stage#section-6-3
You might also notice that on the newly launched www.aidsaction.ca, the NDP have all endorsed C-393, contrast that with the rest of the parties. Hmm…look’s like someone’s got their priorities straight.
Note: this post is based on personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the position of UAEM