The GDP, a quarter!
The price, the same?
Glivec is the medicine for chronic myeloid Leukemia (CML) and produced by Novartis. It has become famous in Korea. Its efficiency isn’t the only reason for that fame. CML patients in Korea cannot get the medicine, even though the medicine is a dream-come-true for them.
Why? Novartis asks CML patients in Korea for the same price of $2400/month as they do in Switzerland and the U.S. However, Korean economic level, measured by GDP, is a quarter of that of the U.S. or Switzerland. In addition, since the patients usually have hard time finding jobs and therefore making money because of their disease status, an exorbitant price is a definite obstacle for them. In short, patients’ lives are treated as hostage of the greed of the pharmaceutical company and the patent owned by the company a license to kill those patients in Korea.
Since it was first introduced in April 2001, CML patients in Korea have aggressively fought for their right to access to Glivec. However, Novartis ignores the demand for the price cut and rejects the price of $1560/month proposed by the Korean Government. The majority of CML patients in Korea are not covered by medical insurance.
To solve this problem, we, Korean NGOs, requested a compulsory license of Glivec patent in Jan 2002. Enforcing the tool of compulsory license, however, is not easy, as you would know. Novartis already oppressed us by mentioning problems regarding foreign trade and possibility of retaliatory action from other countries. The Korean Government did not show any strong will that was enough to support the patients. From Jan to Feb 2003, Leukemia patients and Glivec Joint Committee went on a sit-in strike at National human rights committee building. We demanded to cut the price of Glivec, ensure adequate treatments for all leukemia patients, and allow the compulsory license of Glivec. Korean government promised to expand the insurance coverage to reduce the patients’ economic burden. Under the current insurance system, however, many patients cannot afford the drug despite the proposed measures. Besides, Novartis refused to cut the price of Glivec and requested to arrest the patients and NGOs asking for the meeting with Mr. Bobe, the president of Novartis Korea. On March 2003, Korean government refused to grant the compulsory license. On June 2003, Leukemia patients imported "Veenat". "Veenat" is the generic version of Glivec and is manufactured by Indian generic company, Natco.
The Glivec struggle shows that patent secures pharmaceutical companies’ profit and threatens the right to healthy lives.
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