Dhaka, July 20, 2023. Under the TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organization, Bangladesh must grant product patents to multinational companies who will then hold monopoly rights over the production, distribution and pricing of critical medicines and push out generic production. Until 2026, and maybe for a few years after, Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies can produce these medicines without any MNC exerting monopoly control. However, after that period, medicine prices will increase significantly. To ensure medicine availability for all, civil society representatives suggest the Patent Act of 2022, while going in the right direction, must address existing loopholes and make full use of TRIPS flexibilities. Bangladesh must also achieve self-reliance in raw materials (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) through supportive policies, and keep the entire health sector corruption-free. These recommendations were discussed at a seminar organized by the COAST Foundation in collaboration with the Third World Network at CIRDAP auditorium in the capital.
The seminar, “Bridging the Gap: TRIPS and Enhanced Access to Medicines in Bangladesh,” was presided over by Dr. Kazi Khalquezzaman Ahmad, Chairman of Palli Karma Shahayak Foundation. The event was moderated by Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Executive Director of COAST Foundation, with Md. Mujibul Haque Munir presenting the keynote. Other speakers included Dr. Sudip Choudhuri, Former Professor of Indian Institute of management, Rashid -E-Mahbub, President of the National Committee on Health Movement, Farida Akhtar of Ubinig, Sharif Jamil of Waterkeeper Bangladesh, Ranja Sengupta and Pratibha Sivasubramanian of the Third World Network.
Md. Mujibul Haque Munir stressed the importance of medicine availability, as 44% of healthcare expenses in Bangladesh are spent on medicines. The pharmaceutical industry has made significant progress, meeting around 98% of the country’s demand and exporting medicines to approximately 147 countries. However, the country currently does not pay fees for patented medicines, which might change once it becomes a developing country. He proposed several recommendations, including self-reliance in raw materials, emphasis on research and development in the pharmaceutical sector, fighting corruption in the health sector, and ensuring universal health insurance for all.
Dr. Sudip Choudhuri emphasized the need for Bangladesh to achieve self-reliance in raw materials for medicines, requiring government policy support to establish a domestic raw material market. Prathibha Sivasubramanian called for amendments to the Patent Act 2022, suggesting water tight provisions and high threshold of granting patents so as to disallow patents to new use and new forms of old drugs, more grounds should be added to facilitate domestic companies to obtain Compulsory Licenses and manufacture necessary medicines. She also stressed the importance of transparency in the patent process. Farida Akhtar highlighted the significance of not treating medicine as a mere product and addressed the issue of domestic companies engaging in monopolistic practices. Dr. Rashid E. Mahbub stressed the need for increased funding for research and political will to achieve accessible medicine for all and resolve pharmaceutical industry challenges.
Dr. Kazi Khalikuzzaman Ahmad proposed a joint research system between universities and pharmaceutical companies, requiring policy and financial support from the government. He also emphasized developing skilled manpower to adapt to future industry changes and increasing allocation for the entire health sector. Rezaul Karim Chowdhury acknowledged Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical achievements but urged the country to become self-reliant in the industry within the next eight years to ensure affordable medicine access for all.