TPP revealed to be health threat: Médecins Sans Frontières

lots of pills with an antibiotic capsule on top

The ‘fact sheet’ on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement issued today by the Australian Government ignores the serious threat to global health posed by the trade deal, says Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

Today the Australian Government issued a ‘myths vs realities’ fact sheet to address ‘misconceptions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement trade deal currently under negotiation.

Médecins Sans Frontières has warned all 12 countries negotiating the deal that it contains provisions which threaten to keep the prices of medicines higher for longer. It also reduces the potential options governments have to make essential medicines and treatments more accessible to patients, particularly in poorer countries, says MSF.

“The glaring omission from this document is the impact that the TPP will have on populations outside Australia,” says Jon Edwards, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia’s Advocacy Manager.

“The Australian Government has a responsibility not to sign onto an agreement that they suspect will have a negative impact on global health in our region and beyond.

“Currently the TPP, according to recent leaks, contains provisions which will restrict access to healthcare for patients by ensuring drugs and treatments continue to be priced out of reach for many who need them,” says Edwards.

Médecins Sans Frontières says it has several concerns with the text under negotiation including proposals to lower the bar of patentability and mandate the granting of secondary patents for modifications to existing treatments even in the absence of therapeutic benefit for patients (a practice known as patent “evergreening”).

“This would allow existing products which are under patent to have minor changes which don’t have significant health benefits for patients, yet still qualify them for a new extension for the patent,” says Edwards.

The agreement would also impose an unprecedented extended period of exclusivity for clinical data required to prove the safety and efficacy of drugs and vaccines that are biologic products.

“Both provisions would essentially allow big brand name pharmaceutical companies to extend their monopolies and prevent generic competition, making medicines and vaccines more expensive for longer,” says Edwards.

Other provisions proposed in the TPP, including patent term extensions, patent linkage, additional intellectual property enforcement measures and investor-state dispute settlements, are equally concerning from a public health and access to medicines perspective.

“Médecins Sans Frontières remains concerned about the robustness of any safeguards against investor-state dispute settlement provisions, especially in poorer countries,” says Edwards.

Governments should be able to legislate or regulate to protect public health – for example by introducing a price control mechanism like the PBS or PHARMAC – without fear of legal action from pharmaceutical corporations.

“Australia should be standing in opposition to ISDS clauses as they have in the past.”

If these provisions are included in the final text of the agreement, they will represent a direct threat not only to the future availability of affordable medicines and vaccines for millions of patients in the Asia-Pacific region, but also for Médecins Sans Frontières and governments in the region, says MSF.

The TPP could have effects far beyond the current twelve negotiating countries, it says.

“Because the TPP is billed as a 21st century model trade agreement that aims at becoming a global standard, it could have damaging repercussions for access to treatment and innovation worldwide,” Edwards says.

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