In recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Alec van Gelder, Project Director at the International Policy Network wrote that strong intellectual property rights are critical to strengthening Africa's health care system. He criticized statements by the Head of the World Health Organization Essential Medicines Program, Hans Hogerzeil. Hoberzeil wrote that "Big Pharma" and intellectual property rights are preventing the world's poorest countries from receiving access to healthcare. Contradicting these assertions, van Gelder pointed out that the region's lack of health infrastructure and the diversion of aid money are the real culprits behind the crisis.
"Drug companies do make easy targets but that doesn't make them villains," said van Gelder, "The life-saving treatments they create remain Africa's best hope. The misguided battle against pharmaceutical companies' patent rights will only make Africa's health crisis worse."
van Gelder notes that the growing field of public-private partnerships have resulted in a twelve-fold increase in patients receiving treatment over the last decade and have created a program of voluntary patent licenses for lower-cost "generics" manufacturers. Furthermore, fewer than 5% of WHO's 423 Essential Medicines are currently protected by patents and these are mostly advanced "second-line" anti-AIDS medicines.
Global Health Progress (GHP) is actively supporting public-private partnerships to help address the need for access to medicines. Strong patent protection and intellectual property rights are critical components of these efforts to treat the public health challenges that the world's poorest countries face. As van Gelder aptly points out, "Trampling over intellectual property rights removes drug companies' incentives to invest billions of dollars in the development of the next generation" of much-needed and sought after drugs.
Rather, GHP supports the continued development of public-private partnerships, research and development and protection for intellectual property rights. These policies ensure that developing countries continue to have drugs available at reasonable costs, that pharmaceutical companies continue to embrace innovations and that all organizations can work together to improve healthcare infrastructure worldwide.