Public health goals should be above trade deals: Nadda

Union Health Minister J P Nadda has urged BRICS group of nations to prioritise public health targets over trade deals in a recent meeting of the grouping that comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“Trade regimes are important, but must be seen as being subservient to the shared international public health goals,” Nadda said at the meeting of BRICS health ministers.

Availability of medicines at affordable prices was among the key subjects discussed in the meeting.

Referring to the World Health Organisation’s recent decision to drop the term “counterfeit” and use “falsified” instead to describe medicines of inferior quality, Nadda said he was “happy” that the WHO member-states arrived at a unanimous decision in doing so as the word “counterfeit” usually denotes intellectual property rights violations.

On banishing the idea of patents or trademark or other intellectual property issues while defining ‘falsified’ medical products, he said: “This, I believe, would go a long way towards promoting access to medicines, including through the full use of TRIPS flexibilities and defending our policy space against TRIPS-plus provisions and other measures that impede access to medicines. Such measures are necessary not only for the BRICS but for the entire world.”

For years, the BRICS health ministers have asked to share national experiences for the continued use of local production and compulsory licensing and to push back bilateral agreements forcing TRIPS-plus conditions so as to maintain access to affordable medicines.

“Affordable medicines are no longer a necessity of the poor countries alone. Regulatory capacities need to be strengthened to enforce appropriate quality standards and check the entry of spurious medicines,” Nadda said.

“I am happy to note that at the BRICS workshop on drugs and medical devices in Goa in November 2016, the BRICS regulators agreed on a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) on regulatory collaboration with a view to improving the standards, certification and regulatory mechanisms for drugs and pharmaceuticals and promoting the availability of safe, efficacious, affordable and quality medicines,” he added.

The BRICS nations are considering signing an MoU to work on mutual recognition, sharing information and accelerating regulatory approvals in case of international and national health emergencies.