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The global race is on to create vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, but who will own the products that are developed? Restrictive patent protection laws could give pharmaceutical companies sole ownership of any drugs they create, making them prohibitively scarce and expensive when the world can least afford it. Prabir Purkayastha, editor-in-chief of NewsClick, explains how India changed its patent laws, facilitating the development of cheap AIDS drugs in the 90s. Will we learn from the AIDS crisis, or will we let the international patent regime stand in the way of making Covid-19 treatments and vaccines available for everyone? Purkayastha points out that these medications could be cheaply reproduced in India and exported to the rest of the world, “but there must be political will to use them.”
When it comes to manufacturing medicines, India has a history of being self-reliant and very productive. Patent protection laws passed in most of the world during the 1960s permitted pharmaceutical companies to patent the chemical compounds that created. This prohibited other companies from producing the same medicines for a lower price. India, however, passed a revolutionary patent law in 1970, which allowed companies to patent the process for creating a chemical compound, but prohibited patents on the chemical compounds themselves. This enabled many life-saving medicines to be reproduced at a much lower price. Even many of the anti-retrovirals and other medicines currently being used to treat Covid-19, including the controversial Hydroxychloroquine, are able to be mass produced.
- Prabir Purkayastha, editor-in-chief of NewsClick