Info Service on Health Issues (Sept15/01)
1 September 2015
Third World Network
friends and colleagues,
are pleased to share with you an interview in The Times of India -
yet another account of how individual patients in need of life saving
medicines have to overcome exorbitant prices set by the pharmaceutical
industry by using patents.
US, UK doctors refuse to prescribe Indian drugs, it reeks of racism
Nagarajan,TNN | Aug 30, 2015, 12.04 AM IST
Jefferys, a 61-year-old historian and author from Australia, hit
international headlines when he flew to Chennai to use generic sofosbuvir
to successfully cure himself of Hepatitis C. He spent 1/100th — just
about $1000 — the amount it would have cost him if he were to use
the patented version. Jefferys has since helped hundreds of patients
access the medicine cheaply from here. Talking to Rema Nagarajan,
Jefferys strongly criticises big pharma and the patent regime that
is putting life-saving medicines beyond the reach of patients and
allowing companies to make 'obscene profits'.
Did you have concerns regarding the safety and quality of the Indian
I have no concerns about Indian generics generally. In all areas of
the world, there are issues of quality control and there are good
companies and not-so-good companies. India has some of the largest
and best pharmaceutical manufacturers in the world. I actually get
really angry when doctors in the UK or the US refuse to prescribe
life-saving drugs because they are made in India. It reeks of racism
or post-colonial arrogance! Did you know that I have had dozens of
emails from people in the UK with hep C who have tried to get a prescription
for Indian Sofosbuvir and not one doctor in all of the UK would write
it for these people. But I have had two prescriptions for Indian Sofosbuvir
from the UK. One was from a doctor who had hep C himself and the other
was from a doctor whose best friend had hep C. None other than that!
It astounds me. Tens of thousands of people in the UK are suffering
and dying simply because their GPs refuse to write them a prescription
for Indian generic medici nes.
In Australia it is not illegal to bring in three months' supply
of a drug. But what about countries where it is illegal to bring in
drugs from other countries? What should they do?
Most countries have laws favourable to their citizens importing medicines
for personal use. There are only seven that I know of that totally
prohibit this and I would suggest that if I lived in one of those
countries then I would bring the medicines in to save my life or the
life of a loved one. Who would not!
Do you think there is a need for a worldwide civil disobedience
movement to force governments to re-examine pricing of life-saving
I think that people should embrace the affordable and life-saving
medicines being offered to the world by India, import them and use
them. Their governments and advocates should encourage this but they
do not because they are scared of the power and wealth of big pharma.
Big pharma has developed many strategies to prevent this. At the moment
there is an extensive campaign in Australia, the UK and the US to
instil fear of Indian generics in both doctors and the general public.
This is done by whispers, cleverly placed press releases and out and
out bribery. For example, the main hepatitis advocacy group in Australia,
Hepatitis Australia, receives $240,000 per annum in "sponsorship"
from drug companies. Hep Australia generally discourages people from
using Indian generics. This is the case with most hep advocacy groups
around the world. They all get major financial sponsorship from the
drug companies. They claim this does not influence them but we all
know that it does.
Also, doctors, hospitals and medical universities all get major funding
from the drug companies for research projects. It is supposed to be
"at arms length" but is it?
What do you say about high pricing blocking access to a medicine
that could possibly eradicate hep C virus of a particular kind?
The medicines that are now available could eliminate hep C from the
earth in a decade but the greed of big companies prevents this. I
am happy for drug companies to make a profit, a healthy profit, not
an obscene profit, not a profit that means that tens of millions of
people will suffer and die simply because they do not have enough
money to pay the outrageous prices being asked for these medicines.
Does it make sense to grant patents and protect predatory pricing
even when pharma companies are not ready to open up their account
books or make public how much it cost to 'discover' a drug? What do
you think should be done? Is there a need to revisit or change the
patent regime currently being enforced internationally?
I believe India has the correct attitude to patents, particularly
drug patents. Set the bar high. Something must be truly innovative,
not just an existing concept that has been slightly reworked, which
is the case with Sovaldi and the other new antivirals. Set the bar
high, if it is not innovative enough then let the product be manufactured
and sold on the open market. Big pharma uses its vast wealth to influence
politicians and governments around the world to try to get them to
set the patent bar low. I applaud India for standing strong and independent
against the pressure of western commercial forces. It is incredibly
important that there are countries like India that are independent
and able to stand up against the pressures from places like the US.
India is a beacon of hope for the world and for so many people, like
myself, who would die if it was not for India making these generic
Why did you decide on Chennai? What was your experience like?
I have been to India a number of times but never to the south. I recently
wrote a history book which was largely about an officer in the East
India Company who was based in Madras from 1790 to 1812 so I wanted
to see Chennai. It was very hot... 40+ nearly every day. But I enjoyed
it. I always enjoy India.