Among the mother load of Wikileaks documents the media and various government officials are still sorting through are cables citing Public Citizen’s Peter Maybarduk and the work he does fighting Big Pharma in an attempt to get those in need access to critical lifesaving medicines.
Recently analyzed Wikileaks cables revealed, among other things, that U.S. Embassy officials met repeatedly with multinational pharmaceutical companies, and separately met some of the companies’ “well-placed contacts” in “potentially sympathetic ministries.” The companies, their government contacts, and Embassy officials shared strategies to prevent or limit Ecuador’s use of compulsory licensing.
One of these well-placed contacts, Ecuador’s former Minister of Health – who has since been replaced – reportedly assured multinational pharmaceutical companies that her office was investigating the business dealings of local medicine suppliers, with the explicit objective of “gain[ing] some leverage.”
The Ministry also reportedly raised a criticism that generics sold under compulsory license might not contain active ingredients. But this confuses patent licensing with the separate and independent drug regulatory approval process. Compulsory licensing of patents does not, on its own, authorize the sale of any medicine – only the use of the patents. Typically, and in Ecuador, a separate agency regulates medicines and determines which are safe for consumers. A product benefiting from a compulsory license must, like other medicines, still obtain the approval of INH, Ecuador’s regulatory agency.
The cables betray a strong U.S. Embassy bias against compulsory licensing, and damage the credibility of assurances offered elsewhere that the United States supports the use of TRIPS Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities to promote public health
In spite of efforts to undermine Ecuador’s access protocol, Ecuador issued its first compulsory license in April 2010, enabling generic imports of the HIV/AIDS drug ritonavir. IFI, the association of multinational pharmaceutical companies operating in Ecuador, issued a statement “democratically accepting” President Correa’s decision. The United States has refrained from public criticism.
Ecuador’s access to medicines and compulsory licensing protocol remains in place.
The complete leaked cables follow. The cables are dated October 13 and 21 of 2009 and February 10 of 2010, and were recently published in Ecuador’s El Universo newspaper. (Note: also included is a relevant excerpt from a cable sent October 29, 2009.)
The cables include some misinterpretations of law, precedent, and Ecuador’s licensing protocol, and should not be considered source documents for technical analysis of these subjects. Source documents are available on the website of Ecuador’s intellectual property office, IEPI, or by following the links here.
Public Citizen’s global access to medicines program (formerly with Essential Action) has provided technical assistance to the government of Ecuador since 2007.
Links to cables:
Learn more Peter Maybarduk’s access to medicines work and check out what he does when he is not pulling twelve hour days in the public interest.