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'Compulsory licensing for drugs augurs well for India'

NEW DELHI, June 2 - AFTER the success of the Doha Declaration, where public health was put above trade concerns - another significant development has been achieved at the World Health Assembly (WHA) recently held in Geneva, with governments agreeing to allow patents to be over-run, in the event of a public health emergency.

The Union Health Minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj, told presspersons that the contentious issue - of putting public health above Intellectual Property Right concerns, in case of emergencies - had made significant progress at the WHA, with member-countries agreeing that governments could invoke compulsory licencing provisions to make medicines available in their countries, in the interest of public health.

A compulsory licence allows a company, other than the original patent holder of a medicine, to produce the same drug, but on the payment of a royalty to the patent holder.

The US had stood isolated on this issue at World Trade Organisation meetings, raising concerns on the definition of a public health emergency and what conditions would trigger the compulsory licensing provision.

The US had sought to keep the public health emergencies profile as a list of 15-odd diseases.

"It is not possible to keep a list of diseases. Three months ago, who had heard of a public health crises called SARS," she said, replying to a query from Business Line. "Now, individual governments would be able to decide what is a public health emergency and invoke compulsory licensing and this will be monitored and supervised by the Director-General, WHO," she said.

Meanwhile, on the recently adopted global treaty on tobacco, she said that member countries would now have to sign and ratify the treaty. In India, rules are being framed for the Tobacco Control Act and different provisions will be notified separately, but "within a reasonable period of time," she added.

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