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India asks WHO to stay away from counterfeit issues

Joe C Mathew  |  New Delhi 

India has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to confine itself to its public health mandate and not associate with the attempts to redefine “counterfeit” medicines.

The view comes in the backdrop of WHO’s attempt to get its member countries approve a definition proposed by the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), a committee WHO funds partially. The apex decision making body of WHO — the World Health Assembly — is to meet in two months from now.

The IMPACT’s counterfeit definition is opposed by India and several of the Latin American and south-east Asian countries as they fear it may affect the flow of genuine low cost (generic) medicines from destinations such as India to the developing world.

In a meeting on March 26 held in Geneva, Indian representatives are known to have made it clear that the country wants no linkages between WHO and IMPACT.

“It is our strong recommendation that WHO, which has a mandate on public health and a role in strengthening national health surveillance systems, should confine itself to this mandate and not associate itself with IMPACT,” the Permanent Mission of India to WTO (World Trade Organization) in Geneva informed WHO.

Indian mission also said that instead of approaching WHO, IMPACT “should direct its work towards WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation or WTO or could even be a part of a plurilateral initiative like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has a singular focus on counterfeiting”.

According to Indian representatives, ‘counterfeit’ is a juridical term and is linked to intellectual property rights (IPRs).

“India’s understanding of the term is in lines with the definition of ‘counterfeit trademark goods’ contained in the TRIPS Agreement…In view of this, countries wishing to define ‘counterfeit medical products’ should make a proposal in the WTO for a suitable amendment to TRIPS Agreement to incorporate the new definition. WHO, with its public health mandate, should deal with QSE (quality) issues,” Indian mission has clarified.

India’s concerns stem from the increased number of seizures that happened in various European ports where medicines on transit to developing country destinations were confiscated on complaints of IPR violations.

“We are concerned at efforts to extrapolate this quality/IPR confusion to linking counterfeit medicines with generic medicines which are perfectly IPR-compliant and form the back bone of public health programmes of developing country governments,” India has stated.

The country also pointed out that the European Union had accused India and other developing countries as the source of such medicines before the TRIPS Council in WTO.

First Published: Tue, March 30 2010. 00:49 IST