India’s Efforts to Aid Poor Worry Drug Makers (New York Times, December 30, 2013) points to the price of cancer medications as the sole impediment to access. Not so.
Price is one variable, but it is not the only one.
Less than 10% of India's 45+ million citizens with cardiovascular disease get even the most common medicines like diuretics and statins. Yet there are 10,500 licensed Indian drug manufacturers producing hundreds of generic anti-hypertensives and other CVD products on the market in India.
While the Times’ story shares a sad tale, the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data.” The truth is much more complicated and the issue of local production vs. patent protection is a red herring. Almost every drug on the WHO’s list of essential drugs is off-patent – and yet patients in India (and almost every nation in the developing world) lacks access due to poorly run government programs, failing domestic infrastructure, dearth of healthcare providers and, worst of all, lack of diagnosis.Also, once a lifesaving drug or treatment exists, it’s seductively easy to take it for granted. We sometimes forget the years of toil these things take to develop; the millions spent to bring a new drug or treatment from theory to actuality. As Abraham Lincoln wrote, patents “add the fuel of interest to the passion of genius.”