Civil society representatives have called for pursuing self-reliance in active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for medicine to ensure medicine availability for all after the cancellation of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) facilities.
The Patent Act 2022, while going in the right direction, must address existing loopholes and make full use of TRIPS flexibilities, they observed at a seminar, titled "Bridging the Gap: TRIPS and Enhanced Access to Medicines in Bangladesh", organised by the COAST Foundation in collaboration with the Third World Network at CIRDAP auditorium in the capital yesterday.
The seminar was presided over by Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman of Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, and moderated by Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of COAST Foundation.
Presenting the keynote, Md Mujibul Haque Munir, joint director of COAST Foundation, said, "Under the TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organisation, patentees must pay a special fee for manufacturing a patented medicine. Until 2029, Bangladeshi pharmaceutical companies can produce these medicines without any patent fee. However, after that medicine prices may significantly increase due to patent fees."
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 Chaudhuri, former professor of the Indian Institute of Management, also emphasised the need for Bangladesh to achieve self-reliance in raw materials for medicine, requiring government policy support to establish a domestic raw material market.
Pratibha Sivasubramanian, researcher of the Third World Network, called for amendments to the Patent Act 2022, suggesting domestic companies be given the opportunity to obtain compulsory licences to break patent rights and manufacture necessary medicines.
She also stressed the importance of transparency in the patent process.
Farida Akhtar, one of the founders of the non-government research organisation Ubinig, highlighted the significance of not treating medicine as a mere product and addressed the issue of domestic companies engaging in monopolistic practices.
Rashid-E-Mahbub, president of the Health Rights Movement National Committee, stressed the need for increased funding for research and political will to achieve accessible medicine for all and resolve pharmaceutical industry challenges.
Dr Kazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmad proposed a joint research system between universities and pharmaceutical companies, requiring policy and financial support from the government. He also emphasised developing skilled manpower to adapt to future industry changes, and increasing allocation to the entire health sector.
COAST Foundation Executive Director Rezaul Karim Chowdhury acknowledged Bangladesh's pharmaceutical achievements and underscored the need for self-reliance in the industry within the next eight years to ensure affordable medicine access for all.
Among others, Sharif Jamil of Waterkeeper Bangladesh and Ranja Sengupta of the Third World Network spoke at the event.