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The Threat to Public Health Worse Than Obamacare

The Threat to Public Health Worse Than Obamacare

Morgue toesImage: ©iStockphoto.com / bonnie jacobs

By Ashley Mergen

Obamacare is bad enough. With burdensome regulations that strangle hiring, hurt small businesses, and disrupt healthcare, what more can we stand? Well, as it turns out, bad policies from overseas are also threatening to undo our healthcare system in an equally nefarious fashion.

Look no further than the front page of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, where fake medicines from China threaten to totally undo—and even reverse—gains in the treatment of widespread diseases, like malaria. This epidemic of fakes severely undermines patient populations by either not treating the ill, poisoning them, or making those suffering actually resistant to real treatments.

So, what does this have to do with us? Not only is this type of counterfeiting heartless and downright dangerous, but it is a mistake to assume that it’s contained to the developing world. The United States is a prime target for Chinese counterfeiters wanting to make a buck at the expense of public health.

From bogus cancer medications to lackluster libido enhancers, patients can’t be sure what to trust. The repercussions to health caused by seemingly genuine medications “could materially affect patient confidence in the authentic product, and harm the business of companies,” as pharmaceutical company Novartis pointed out in an interview.

But it doesn’t end there. While dangerous fakes are coming from China, another country is threatening to unravel the most basic ability to pursue medical research. While their laws and courts may rest within their own borders, India’s recent actions are going to haunt healthcare systems around the world.

Last month, the Indian Supreme Court bucked international protocol and denied patent protections for a kidney cancer drug. This patent denial effectively stripped the creator of the drug of its intellectual property (IP) rights and the right to recoup expenses incurred after exhaustive research and development (R&D).

With high Food and Drug Administration standards, more complicated diseases to tackle, and patient care on the mind, the companies that drive medical innovation need guaranteed IP rights to take risks to solve emerging heath epidemics.

Otherwise, what’s the use? Why would anyone in their right mind pour a decade of R&D and $1.3 billion in investment if their right to compensation is immediately denied? What’s most disturbing is that this doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident of Indian courts deciding the fate of global public health. They’ve done this not once. Not twice. Not thrice. But no less than four times now.

There goes the cure to cancer. Adios diet pill. Bye bye flu vaccine.

The actions stemming from India and China have the potential to stymie patient health. The good news is that, like Obamacare, these woeful policies are not un-reversible. China can implement more effective anti-counterfeiting enforcement mechanisms, while India should pursue the path to innovation by protecting the intellectual property rights of both domestic and international innovators.

Otherwise, businesses and consumers alike could just get sick of it.