‘We have the right to affordable treatments’ — Mark Cheong

MARCH 3 — While Malaysians rejoice at the government’s action in ensuring that we are able to receive affordable treatment for Hepatitis C through the issuing of a compulsory license for the drug sofusbuvir, it comes as no surprise that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and their representatives are deeply unhappy, to the point of lobbying the US Trade Representative to threaten Malaysia for what it perceives to be an unlawful infringement of their intellectual property rights.

This is patently false. As the World Health Organization points out, Malaysia is exercising its legal right as provided under the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to ensure that its citizens are able to receive affordable treatments and healthcare. It is however, worth considering once again, why are so many life-saving medicines priced so high that only a handful of people who need them can afford to get it?

Some might say that high prices are necessary to recoup the investment put into developing these drugs with the addition of a tiny profit margin. It is therefore curious that Big Pharma has largely rejected the United Nations High Level Panel on Access to Medicines’ recommendation for transparency into the costs of drug development and manufacturing, even though doing so might help them justify the high prices of medication.

Others might point out that the high prices are reflective of the value of the drug, in other words, the more effective the treatment, the higher the price. But what is the value of a drug to the man and woman on the street who cannot afford it? None, whatsoever. For it to have any value, medicines need to be priced at a level where it can be used to save lives.

These points regarding intellectual property, costs, and value reflect the lofty viewpoint of the pharmaceutical industry that medicines are simply a commercial product. Consider, however, the viewpoint of the public. Without access to affordable treatments, we lose the right to health and to life itself. For that, I congratulate the Ministry of Health Malaysia and urge the government to stand firm against all threats arising from this action.  

* Mark Cheong is a lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, Monash University Malaysia.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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