An interview with Tahir Amin
Duration: 00:12:05; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 319.504; Saturation: 0.075; Lightness: 0.578; Volume: 0.182; Cuts per Minute: 4.300; Words per Minute: 123.622
Summary: Tahir Amin is a lawyer from the UK currently working with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, India on intellectual property issues and its affect on the public domain. Following his departure from the corporate legal world he has been an activist in the U.K Stop the War Coalition, the International Solidarity Movement as an international peace activist/observer in the West Bank, Palestine. Here, TA talks about the problem of the 2005 Amendment to the Patents Act, which he says will add fuel to the current trend of privatisation of healthcare. He says that information, knowledge, life-saving drugs should not be withheld from poor people, and the public in general. When patents for making these drugs are implemented, then the pharmaceutical companies have a monopoly and can decide to charge extravagant prices for medicines that could save lives.
Heading on board: Karnataka Government Health and Family Welfare
TA: My name's Tahir Ameen. I'm working with the Alternate Law Forum. I'm a lawyer from UK. And I came to India to work on Intellectual Property (IP) issues. And I"ve been solely working on the new Patents Act which has come into force in India in March.
Big signboard visible and then camera pans to Tahir Amin (TA) as he introduces himself. He is wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt which says 'Don't give up the fight.'
alternate law forum
TA: Now, the Patents Act has implications in particular, for the access to medicines. You might ask what is a patent? A patent is something which gives a company a monopoly or exclusive right, to make a particular product,. And how that affects medicine is, one company can charge a particular price for a medicine, while preventing others from doing so.
TA: We have a real problem in India because earlier, prices here were the lowest in the world and now this is going to stop. How soon will it stop. It will probably take 2 years. So, today you might be going to your chemist, and you think,'Well, nothing's going to change.' But actually, in two years time, this is the landscape. For, the prices for medicines WILL change. And this is what the new Patent Act will bring to you.
Related Links: Patent Act and Amendments
Indiatogether Critque on Patents Act Amendment 2005
TA: And how does this tie in with the World Information City and Knowledge? Well, it is called the Appropriation of Knowledge. A lot of knowledge that goes into patents, has already existed. One could say it is a 'discovery'. It's there in nature already. It's just chemical compounds. It's just chemical compounds, which have been formulated, or discovered by science research and which ultimately lead to huge profits for these big pharmaceutical companies.
world information city
TA: You might say, 'Shouldn't the company benefit from having done all this research and discovery?' Well. Should that be the price of health? You take away my entertainment because I'm not allowed to copy your CD. But what about medicine? Isn't that an even bigger essential in life? But this is what's happening with the new Patent Act. In the sense that, life-saving drugs that should be granted to people with life-threatening diseases like AIDS. Karnataka has the highest number of people carrying HIV-AIDS in India. And also, (India) is the second most country in the world with 5.2 million people (PLAs – People Living with Aids). So, you are telling me that actually preventing such an , is not as important as maintaining the pharmaceutical industry and giving out patents on essential medicines and drugs.
TA: More recently, the issue with Tamiflu, the Bird Flu virus, which has come to prevalence in South East Asia. This is coming to our doorstep in India, most likely, as well. And the governments have acted in India, to say that companies in India, who were previously making their own versions of those, can actually go ahead and make the drugs that are necessary for preventing a pandemic happening.
South East Asia
TA: This is what needs to be done in ALL access to medicines. Not just for when a global warning has been issued. HIV is a global warning. Access to medicines is important, and the government procure and make available, as many drugs as possible as cheaply as possible. But the new Patent Act is going to arguably prevent this. It's going to make it harder to get drugs more readily. Companies that were making it freely will have to stop. They will have to abide by these laws. So, what you are getting is knowledge falling into the hands of a few.
SA: Aap humein ek example de sakte, iski baare mein
? Can you give me an example of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that used to be available at one-fifth or one-tenth the...
TA: The classic example we have is the Glivec example, which is a (chronic) Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) drug, which was proved very effective. It was invented, arguably by Novartis. Now, the prices in India, when the domestic companies in India were making their own versions were roughly 3-4000 Rupees a month, which by most standards is still more than what most people can afford.
TA: But actually when they got the exclusive marketing right under the Patent Act, and this takes up back to the holding of knowledge and proprietorship and property. They were able to charge 1 lakh 20,000. So the difference is IMMENSE!
TA: Without sounding alarmist, prices will not go up immediately. What will happen is that over time, in the next 2-3 years, prices will slowly increase, as the competition DEcreases. And this is what holding knowledge and patents is about. It's actually keeping out competition, not encouraging competition
TA: They all talk about, 'Oh! There's going to be more inventive(ness), more research and development, which will only benefit the consumer, etc., etc. That is not always the case. What happens is that the patents fall into the hands of a few. Knowledge is in the hands of a few. But the masses who need to medicines don't get it. And if they have to get it, they have to pay huge prices for it.
TA: And this is why it is the government to make sure that the patent regime, which will exist unfortunately. But if it is going to exist, it has to use the flexibilities that are there, so that access to medicines, such as in the Glivec episode do NOT happen in India.
SA: How will public health change.
TA: Public Health will naturally change. I'm from the West and we have a National Health Service (NHS). It still functions. But what is happening is, more and more companies are coming in with private enterprises and health is becoming more and more private. Patents, inarguably is another way of private enterprise. The open access to hospitals will eventually change. This is something, one has to look at for the future. Never mind the price of drugs. But what about hospitals, what about medical centers, what about dispensaries? Will they become private as well? Will they be able to charge whatever price they want as well? Access to medicine is not just about the price of drugs. It's also how hospitals will run. It's all about urbanisation, it's all about private enterprise, it's all about big companies, it's all about makiing profit. Is that what knowledge is all about? Is that what access is all about.
SA: Now, mostly if we go just down the street to smaller dispensaries, the doctors give paracetemols, pain killers and asprins and it's a generic drug. It's in a blue box. And they just take them out. And if there's a mix up in prescriptions, they do the white pill and pink pill. Take this one three times a month, if you want. Now, what are the implications? Are there certain drugs that we'll still be able to (access). Because that is how most people still access drugs.
TA: There are a lot of drugs that you can't get a patent on. They've existed for some time now. It's like I have a pen. I invented the pen. And I can have a patent on that pen for 20 years and after 20 years it falls into the whole public knowledge. I will use as much as possible, within that 20 years, the ability to make as much profit as possible. That's what happened with patents. So there maybe drugs out there, which are no longer on patent, which the public will be able to access. But the problem with THAT is the new drugs. And this is what the doctors...
SA: The new discoveries...
TA: This is what the doctors prescribe. They don't give the old drugs. They are encouraged by sales people from pharmaceutical companies to give the new drugs. So, the new drugs are then forgotten. And the new drugs are the ones, which require a higher price and are the ones that are going to be given patients who can't afford them. And the old drugs are just going to wittle away. And why shouldn't a person be entitled to a new drug which has better effects, which is going to maybe cure an illness. Or should they just continue taking the old drug because they can't afford it. So, the blue pill, the pink pill... whatever it is, it should eb the RIGHT pill.
Tahir walks out of the gate of Ghousia hospital as a Tata Indica full of burkha
clad women enter. He then proceeds to walk on the footpath as busy Bangalore traffic limps by. A few blue and white Bangalore Metropolitian Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses go by. He crosses the road, passes Tasker Town Park, a sugarcane juice stall, Raja Rajeshwari Tiffen Center, and to Lawyers' Collective office.
TA: The idea of putting the rights of property on knowledge and information, will go beyond medicines, will go beyond your CDs, will go beyind your VCDs. It affects language as well. Many companies are now preventing people from using slogans such as Yeh Pyaas hein badi
(This thirst is big), these Pepsi adverts and so on so forth. Everything is becoming a commodity. Everything is becoming in the hands of private ownership. This is the problem with Intellectual Property, as people call it, as the Western legal systems call it. The idea of putting property on knowledge, on information. Anything that can be commodified is becoming a property. Knowledge and information should be free. It should be available.There needs to be more checks and balances on this.