Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Always Buy Generics Where Possible

Or rather, think about what you may be paying for when you buy a branded product.

Three Kenyans on antiretroviral treatment (ART) for AIDS are challenging the recently passed anti-counterfeiting Act as unconstitutional because it could be used to deny them access to generic versions of their life saving medicines.

The bill's definitions are ambiguous enough to be interpreted in a way that makes generics indistinguishable from fakes. This could result in generics not being allowed into the country. As generics can be up to 90% cheaper than the branded versions, this could result in people being unable to afford to continue treatment.

Representatives of pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceutical companies themselves deny that the anti-counterfeiting act would have such a result and deny that they will try to block generics from coming into the country. However, generic medicines have already been held up in European ports and this Kenyan act will only make it more likely that delays will occur.

It is not in the interest of most pharmaceutical companies to have cheap generic versions of drugs being used instead of their expensive, branded versions. Of course, some of them could, and probably do, produce their own generics. But these companies are answerable to their shareholders and anything that threatens profits, regardless of the cost, is not likely to be too popular.

Besides, the pharmaceutical industry is very good at persuading powerful people to promote their interests. In the US, the industry spends several hundred million dollars a year on lobbying. This figure doesn't include other costs, such as advertising and research. These companies know they can make a profit from generics. but they know that the profit is many times higher if they can kill as much trade in generics as possible.

The anti-counterfeiting legislation relies on people associating generics with fakes. Fake goods blight the everyday lives of Kenyans, some even threaten their health. But ironically, it is the extortionately high prices of branded goods that makes the fake goods industry so profitable!

Generics are not fakes. In fact, the very existence of generic versions of ART drugs will make it feasible for most, or even all, HIV positive people to be able to avail of treatment when they need it.

At present, a small percentage of people who need ART are receiving it. That percentage may get smaller as the present economic climate gets worse. But if generics are pushed out of the market there will never be enough money made available to provide ART for all who need it.

The European Community is already investigating the pharmaceutical industry for anti-competitive practices that affect access to generic drugs in Europe. But there needs to be opposition to the practices of pharmaceutical companies in developing countries, where the majority of HIV positive people live and where millions of people need ART but cannot afford it.

The industry is very rich and will continue delaying and blocking things indefinitely as they continue to extort enormous amounts of money from sick and dying people. I hope the people in Kenya succeed in their challenge to the anti-counterfeit legislation, for their benefit, for the benefit of Kenyans and for the benefit of citizens of other developing countries who are also being pushed by the pharmaceutical industry to pass self-serving laws.



Tamaku said...

A close relative works for a global pharmaceutical company. I was shocked to learn from her that bonuses within the industry easily match those in the City of London's investment banking. Appalling.

Simon said...

Hi Tamaku. Yes, it's unbelieveable, but pharmas make amazing profits. They always whinge aobut how high their investments are but they are dwarfed by their profits and many of the costs are shared by the public purse. But if you can pay for PR you can hide almost anything!