Act Up Basel acts to promote universal access to affordable medicines of assured quality. Whether it is the developed world or developing countries, access to treatment and care is an issue that concerns each one of us.
From major pandemics (tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria), to neglected diseases (chagas, sleeping sickness, etc.), to chronic diseases (cancers, diabetes, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular or neurological), many people through the world spend disproportionate amounts to access expensive treatment and care. Research for rare diseases (genetic disorders or "tropical") is neglected by big pharmaceutical companies and often whole populations are ignored because they do not constitute markets profitable enough for the pharmaceutical industry to pay attention to. .
In developing countries the cost of newer products with proven advantage over older medicines, such as antiretroviral, medicines for tuberculosis and new anti-malarial treatment, severely hampers access to medicines for the poorest populations while pushing those in higher income brackets closer to poverty due to exorbitantly priced medicines. Moreover, up to 90% of the population in low and middle-income countries must pay for medicines out of pocket due to lack of social insurance and inadequate publicly subsidized services. Not only are medicines unaffordable for large sectors of the population, they are a major burden on government budgets.
Even in developed countries, health expenditures have increased dramatically due to aging populations that need extensive and long-term care. For all of us, health expenditures continue to increase and take a major part of each individual’s income. Still, for the most vulnerable populations, it is virtually impossible to access treatment. Although health insurance is still available in most rich countries, heavy expenditure on drugs are increasing costs and threatening sustainability. Yet the high cost of medicines is not being questioned. Drug prices are rarely negotiated with big pharmaceutical companies and those same companies use multiple strategies to delay introduction low-cost generics. Developed country governments that do adopt measures to control the high prices of patented medicines (for instance through price negotiations or pharmaceutical reimbursement schemes) are facing pressures to weaken these schemes through free trade agreement negotiations.
The price of medicines is high mainly because patent and data rights allow major pharmaceutical companies to prevent generic competition and to charge profit-maximizing prices far in excess of the true cost of the medicine. Questioning pharmaceutical companies on their exclusive patent and data rights and promoting the wider use of generic drugs are crucial to establish a universal right to health.
In addition, access issues and drug prices cannot be fully addressed without also questioning the funding of research and its orientation towards maximizing profits – marketing blockbusters – rather than targeting unmet medical needs. Today, there is a need to align research goals of the pharmaceutical companies to meet the challenges of public health in the changing environment of growing funding crisis, aging populations, neglected diseases, and changing lifestyles instead of looking at perpetuating patent and data monopolies.
While campaigning against the strategies of pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders to curb the flow of affordable and quality generic drugs in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and Washington DC, or in developing countries across Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and even Africa, Act Up Basel raises awareness among people and advocates with law and policy makers to take measures to lower the prices of medicines, ensure early entry of generics and to force the pharmaceutical industry to review its research and development plans and reorient its pricing and licensing policies to provide universal access to treatment . If strong political will exists on this issue, then the universal right to health could be a reality for all.
In India, the decision to shield medicines from product patents in 1970 allowed the country to develop a strong generic drug industry. Even after joining the World Trade Organization and signing the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 1994, the Indian government made full use of the 10 year transition period before re-introducing product patents on medicines in 2005. When India finally did change its patent law in 2005 the Indian government ensured that its patent law would have enough health safeguards including limiting the ability the pharmaceutical industry to get new patents on minor changes to existing medicines that do not present real therapeutic advantages. This common practice of pharmaceutical companies is called evergreening and Section 3(d) of the Indian patent law attempts to address the proliferation of these sorts of patents that are common in developed countries. Currently, the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis is contesting the interpretation of section 3 (d) of the Indian patent law, the real shield against abuse by the pharmaceutical industry, in India’s Supreme Court. If the company wins this case, weakening patent standards for all medicines, the consequences will be felt by people around the world who rely on India for generic medicines.
In the early 2000s, the introduction of competition from generic medicines led to a significant decrease in the cost of medicines used in the treatment of HIV and AIDS. AIDS medicines that were available at high costs with the best discounted price being $10,439 USD per person per year from big pharmaceutical companies came down to $350 USD in 2001 from Indian generics. Today the WHO recommended first line of medicines is available from Indian generic companies for less than $150 per person per year. . The Indian generic industry now provides over 80% of the HIV/AIDS medicines used to treat adults and over 90% of the medicines used to treat children in developing countries at a tiny fraction of what those same medicines would cost in the absence of competition. Unfortunately, several of the newer medicines for 2nd and 3rd-line use in treating HIV as well as medicines for cancer and other diseases may be patented in India and in other developing countries are either under patent and/or data monopoly protections of developed country pharmaceutical firms, which are charging exorbitant prices.
The Indian generic industry is currently under threat from all sides: including by Novartis which is seeking to undermine the health safeguards in the Indian patent law, by free trade agreements being negotiated by the European Union and Switzerland (through the European Free Trade Association or EFTA free trade agreement negotiations), or by various other international trade agreements such as ACTA (the “anti counterfeiting trade agreement”).
If the Indian generic drug industry withers away due to such actions of pharmaceutical companies (either directly through lobbying or legal cases or through their developed country governments), it would be millions of people not just in the developing world but people also living in Switzerland, US, France and other developed countries in need of access to treatment that would suffer the consequences.
The elderly and senior members of Act Up Basel, who are primarily concerned about growing health costs and related debts that they may leave to future generations, are active players of the mobilization for a universal right to health. They want to see that the health system and research should be accessible to everyone in a sustainable manner. People living with HIV, hepatitis, cancer, mental illness, neglected diseases and many other illnesses and health and public interest groups continue to challenge the pharmaceutical industry that elevates profits over lives.
Act Up in Basel, based at the home of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry that has come to symbolize the cynicism and greed of the multinational pharmaceutical industry, is an alliance of people involved in and concerned with these issues and convinced that we must collectively fight to guarantee the fundamental right to health for all persons.
Act Up-Basel will engage in multiple campaigns to challenge the monopoly rights of pharmaceutical companies, ensure that R&D efforts are targeted towards priority needs, and promoting wider access to affordable generic drugs in developed and developing countries. At present this includes:
Mobilizing people from all sections of society and ages against the actions of the pharmaceutical industry in trying to bend patent laws and health related laws in developed and developing countries for their own interests.
Prepare a database to monitor access to treatment and care and to increase understanding of barriers to treatment access.
Campaign to create the political will within developed and developing countries to ensure a universal right to health that is sustainable including through campaigns with political parties to place this issue on the political agenda and part of their election manifestoes.
Campaign against free trade agreements negotiated by Switzerland and Europe with many developing countries, including India
Act Up-Basel presentation text - February 2012
Co-Founders of Act Up-Basel :
Evelyne Scoupe, Switzerland
Clément Zablocki, France
Pauline Londeix, France
Lorena Di Giano, Argentina
Brook Baker, United States
Othoman Mellouk, Morocco
Rose Marie Marque, Morocco/France
Cécile Cadu, France
Florine Leplâtre, France