Patents are anti-poor!

Arindam ChaudhuriCome Diwali and a considerable number of people all over the country get burns and many die of burn-related injuries. This Diwali, a small diya kept near a staircase had my aunt (my brother-in-law and fellow TSI columnist Prashanto Bannerjee’s mother) in its deadly wrap. Despite her saree being made of cotton, and despite my brother-in-law noticing the burning saree instantly and putting off the flames with buckets of water within twenty seconds, she got 65% burns — and at 72 years of age, that is dangerous!

When we reached Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi — where we finally admitted her — the doctor told us that if she had been of Prashanto’s age (36), he would have given her only a 20% chance of survival with the 3rd degree burns that she had. But then, there’s a small background story. Prashanto’s mother was initially taken to Max Super Speciality Hospital. To our surprise, we were told to get her admitted somewhere else since they didn’t treat burn injuries. The quick research we did after our visit to Max gave us a shocking statistic. In Delhi there are only two hospitals capable of treating burn injuries. If Delhi is like this, then the average Indian city has more or less no hospital to handle such cases!

Anyway, once she was admitted to the ICU at Apollo and we got talking to the doctor, his statements shocked us further. He said that a burn injury is a poor man’s injury and ergo didn’t have many hospitals as takers. It should have been quite obvious actually: it is the poor woman who gets burnt when her saree catches fire from the kitchen stove kept on the floor. And when such poor women get burnt, it matters less whether they survive or not. Therefore, no hospital has been interested in investing in a burn injury center! What was sadder was that when I researched on the net and read about the tremendous advancement of medicines for burn injuries, I realised that we still lived in a country that continues to have the highest number of people dying of completely curable burns.

I’ve always been very excited about movements like copyleft and have believed that one of the best things that the Internet has done is to open the doors to zillions of gigabytes of knowledge-ware to mankind free of cost. And I so hope that patent laws across the world too are drastically changed soon for the betterment of mankind. In fact, in his book called Sex, Science and Profits, Professor Terrence Kealey argues how there is absolutely no need to give patent rights to anyone for 30 years, when in reality the costs of research studies with high profits can be recovered back in three years on an average.

It’s time that we come up with a humane formula for deciding the number of years that companies can be granted patent rights. And in medical sciences, this must be done with immediate effect. Additionally, policies similar to the Indian National Pharmaceutical Pricing Policy 2012 — which puts a cap on the prices of 652 popular medicines — must be notified with an immediate effect and should necessarily be expanded to include high cost medical treatments.

In the meanwhile, as Prashanto’s mother fights a brave battle on her 30th day in hospital, friends, when anyone you know of goes through an unfortunate fire accident and gets burnt, remember this: just rushing her to the nearest hospital might be of no use.

— Author is a Management Guru and Hony Director of IIPM Think tank

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