Opinion article |

TPP: The secret pact putting lives at risk

Author: Brian Davies, Access Campaign Coordinator, MSF Japan

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement has been attracting a lot of public, media and political attention in Japan and has been one of the contested grounds of the recent Upper House elections. Politicians from all major parties, the Japan Medical Association and others have raised concerns about how the TPP could affect access to healthcare for patients in Japan. But what many people in Japan are not aware of is how the TPP could severely restrict access to affordable medicines in developing countries.

Representatives from 11 Pacific Rim countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam—are currently meeting in Malaysia for the 18th round of discussions on TPP, which began in 2010. Japan will join the negotiations in Malaysia for the first time this week.

The TPP negotiations are being conducted in secret, without the opportunity for public scrutiny, but leaked texts show that the U.S. is pushing provisions to tighten intellectual property laws that will roll-back public health safeguards enshrined in international law and put in place far-reaching monopoly protections for pharmaceutical companies that would keep medicine prices high and prevent price-busting generic competition.

From our field experience, we know that competition saves lives. We began providing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV/AIDS in 2000 when treatment was more than 10,000 USD per patient per year, and we now treat 285,000 people in HIV/ AIDS projects in 21 countries, mostly with generics produced in Asia. Generic competition has reduced the cost of treatment by nearly 99% to now less than 140 USD per patient per year.

MSF is not alone in recognising the important role generics can play in ensuring access to medicines. Ministries of health in developing countries, other medical treatment providers and global initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives much needed financial support from the people of Japan, routinely rely on affordable generic medicines to be able to offer life-saving treatment to as many people as possible.

Several of the most concerning provisions being pushed by the U.S. promote the practice of ‘evergreening’, whereby pharmaceutical companies extend monopoly protection for medicines beyond the original 20-year patent, for example by obtaining multiple secondary patents on an existing medicine in order to delay generic production of the drug potentially indefinitely. In the case of HIV and many other diseases this would mean patients and treatment providers would have to wait longer to access affordable life-saving drugs.

The U.S. government has also said that they want the TPP to be a template for future agreements between the U.S. and other developing and developed countries, so the harmful intellectual property provisions proposed could impact access to medicines well beyond the current 12 negotiating countries.

That is why it is so important that Japan and the other negotiating countries act now to reject U.S. proposals that harm access to medicines. We need Japan’s support to make sure that vulnerable patients in the Pacific Rim and beyond can access the treatments they need and deserve.

MSF Japan recently sent a letter to the Prime Minister, Minister of Health, Labour and Social Welfare and Japan’s TPP lead negotiator, urging them to reject the provisions most harmful to access to medicines.

Find out which provisions are most concerning

For more information about how the TPP provisions could restrict access to medicines, visit our Spotlight on TPP webpage

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post Japan website on 23 July 2013.