By Amitabh Pal on December 30, 2013

The Obama Administration is annoyed at India for siding with common folk over Big Pharma.

The Indian government occasionally annuls medicinal patents when the drugs are not affordable for the country's ordinary citizens. Top U.S. officials, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, have been urging India to change its approach and keep drug prices high. Obama even went to bat for the drug companies in a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Oval Office some months ago, The New York Times reports.

A huge concern of the pharmaceutical industry is that not only may it lose money in the huge Indian market (1.2 billion and growing), but that India may also set a "bad example" for other countries.

"For drug companies, the most worrisome aspect of India's efforts to lower drug prices is that other countries are beginning to follow its lead. Both Indonesia and the Philippines recently adopted patent laws modeled on India's, and legislators in Brazil and Colombia have proposed following suit," the Times adds.

And in the ultimate nightmare for such corporations, the availability of their drugs at such low prices in India may cause folks to question why people are paying so much for crucial medicines here at home in the U.S. of A.

"Why should we be giving away Herceptin in India and China when we have insured women in the United States who can't even afford the co-pay?" Dr. Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center told the New York Times. "Nobody really asked that question about AIDS drugs in Africa. But with cancer medicines, people will ask, and that's what scares the pharmaceutical industry."

It's interesting that Bach mentions AIDS drugs because that's where the Indian and the U.S. governments previously clashed over drug prices. As a consequence of India amending its patent law in 1970, AIDS patients worldwide were able to afford lifesaving drugs decades later thanks to the Indian generic drug industry.

This didn't please the Clinton Administration and its pharmaceutical funders. President Clinton tried to arm-twist India into reversing policy, until activists made it too embarrassing for the White House to display such callousness.

Clinton has since said that he regretted his stance then, and the Obama Administration is too savvy to restart the fight over AIDS drugs. But the battle involving cancer medicines is no less a crucial one. More than twice the number of Indians die from cancer than from AIDS. The fact that drug companies have been a "major contributor" to Obama (as The New York Times delicately puts it) is no excuse.

Supporters of the pharmaceutical industry's mission for stricter patent laws argue that this is the best system for innovating new drugs.

Not so, argues economist Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"Patent monopolies are an antiquated and incredibly inefficient way to finance drug research," he writes. "There are other mechanisms: for example, the $30 billion annually spent on research by the National Institutes of Health. Paying for research up front, rather than through government-granted patent monopolies, would eliminate the incentive to lie about the safety and effectiveness of drugs. It would also allow for much faster progress, since all results would be fully public so that researchers could more easily build on each other's findings."

Obama should commend India for doing the right thing, instead of prioritizing corporate profits over lives.

Photo: "Indian physician posing with arms crossed," via Shutterstock.

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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