QUITO – The Ecuadorian government said Thursday in justifying its decision to bypass patents and facilitate the production of lower-cost versions of certain medicines that health “takes precedence” over commercial interests.
Health Minister Caroline Chang told Efe that principle is enshrined in Ecuador’s constitution and noted the existence of international accords that authorize each country to prioritize health “over any commercial interest.”
Left-leaning President Rafael Correa, therefore, “has given priority to public health to guarantee we not only have universal access to free health services, but also to cutting-edge technology and even more so to medicines,” she said.
Chang said that at the moment “some sectors are having difficulty” acquiring low-cost medicines, especially (to combat) cancer and AIDS.
The IFI pharmaceutical industry association, composed of 14 laboratories of multinational companies such as Bayer and Pfizer, on Wednesday accepted the government’s decision to bypass patents to facilitate the production of less expensive generic versions of certain drugs.
The IFI said, however, that it was regrettable that the association had not been consulted before the decision was made.
Asked about the IFI’s concern, the minister said only that Correa’s government made a “public policy” decision.
The Ecuadorian Intellectual Property Institute estimates that 870 patents for medicines have been registered, although its president, Andres Ycaza, said that does not mean that “compulsory licenses” for the production of generic drugs should be granted in each case.
Correa said Saturday that such licenses would be issued to bypass patents and ensure affordable access to more than 2,000 products considered to be in the public interest.
Under intellectual property rules issued by the World Trade Organization, countries can issue compulsory licenses to bypass patents after negotiating with the patent owners and paying them adequate compensation.
Such licenses enable the local production, for example, of generic medicines or certain products for agriculture to meet the needs of the domestic market. Products manufactured under this regime cannot be exported.
The Ecuadorian government also plans to issue compulsory licenses for agrochemical products. EFE