Students protest TPP, protect affordable medicine

Medicine

Students at the University of Saskatchewan joined with groups across North America on Jan. 31 to protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Intercontinental Day of Action on the TPP had more than 57 groups rallying together against a massive trade agreement between 12 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean that will loosen laws on how governments can regulate corporate activity, define what crown corporations can and can not do, outline internet governance and provide guidelines for sharing personal information across borders, among many other issues.

The U of S event featured a screening of Fire in the Blood — a documentary on the effects that Western pharmaceutical companies have on developing countries in need of antiretroviral drugs — and had Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network Richard Elliott video-call via Skype for a discussion.

Lori Hanson, an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, said the most detrimental aspect of the TPP is how it will affect access to pharmaceuticals globally.

If signed as it currently stands, the TPP will permit corporations to extend patent terms on future pharmaceuticals and those that are currently being developed beyond the current limit of 20 years. The patent extensions will slow down the process of getting generic drugs to market, hiking up the price of medications and making them less accessible to Canadians.

Another provision of the TPP would have the product’s information kept secret during the clinical data trial period — when a brand name company submits their product to Health Canada to be approved — meaning generic drug companies would not be able to begin their own abbreviated research until later.

Elliott said in an interview with the Sheaf that a key aspect of the TPP that pertains to pharmaceuticals is the creation of monopolies for brand name companies by eliminating their generic-branded competition.

“If you tie up more things under the scope of what you can claim under a patent, then that also inhibits the competition… That means we pay higher prices for the things that are covered by patents, such as medicine,” Elliott said. “That means significantly higher costs for Canadian players.”

Canadians would end up spending more on medications themselves, paying higher insurance premiums or higher taxes to cover provincial medicare if the TPP is signed as is.

The scope of patents may also be broadened under the TPP. One example is the patenting of surgical methods which would have surgeons paying large fees every time they use a certain process. Elliott said patenting surgical methods and other similar medical procedures would put large financial burdens on health-care systems.

The effects the TPP will have on generic drugs in Canada will extend out to developing countries and have significant impacts by making HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria treatments less accessible.

Elliott said countries all over the world will feel the effects of more expensive antiretroviral drugs. He gave the example of how patients today pay US$200 for a year of generic HIV treatments whereas ten years ago the same treatment — but from a brand name company — cost US$10,000.

“We’ve already seen over the last decade how absolutely critical it is to have that competition and the ability to get lower cost, generic versions of antiretroviral drugs, especially in the developing world,” Elliott said.

Despite the consequences the TPP will have on health care, Hanson said one of the real issues with the partnership is that it has been done in secret, adding that the public is only aware of the TPP because some of the United States’ documents were posted on WikiLeaks — an international organization that publishes confidential government documents.

Elliot said Canadians should contact their member of Parliament and urge them to have the TPP made public.

“How can you not let Canadians know what is actually being discussed before you agree to it? We’re the ones that will feel the consequences, as will people from the other countries.”


Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor

  • Student concerned about pharms

    Great article, thank you for reporting on this issue!

  • Guest

    Very informative and interesting to pharmacology students!