Fast Track–Threatening Access to Medicines Around the World

June 03, 2015


By: Alison Case, M.D. AMSA Education & Advocacy Fellow

Health and trade are not traditionally clumped together.  At least, I never had a course in medical school on free trade agreements and intellectual property rights.  It might be expected that one impacts the other only in so far as any other major industry might be impacted by trade agreements.  But what I’ve learned from the Trans Pacific Partnership(TPP) is that this is not the case.

Trade agreements can have a monumental impact on access to medicines and, therefore, to healthcare around the world.  Today we are smack dab in the middle of a heated vote on whether the president will have the power to approve these important agreements without the opportunity for Congress to amend them.

The bill I’m referring to is Fast Track, and it is being voted on in the House after narrowly passing in the Senate last week.  Fast Track would give the president the authority to approve trade agreements without congressional oversight.  This includes the TPP, a controversial, gigantic trade agreement, negotiated almost entirely in secret, with far-reaching implications for health, the environment, and intellectual property rights.

Many citizen groups and labor unions are against the TPP and therefore against fast track legislation for many reasons including loss of jobs and concerns over environmental regulation.

As future healthcare providers, one of the most concerning pieces of the TPP is the intellectual property provisions that would impact access to medicines in the developing world.  Medecins Sans Frontieres has spoken out against the TPP and Fast Track multiple times with letters to the President and most recently a media campaign to educate people on the impact of the TPP. Here are just a few of the results of provisions in the TPP related to access to medicines(from doctorswithoutborders.org).

The TPP would:

-Lower the bar of patentability–making patenting of modified medications possible, even without proof of therapeutic benefit, i.e. change the color of the pill, etc)

-Patent surgical, therapeutic, and diagnostic methods

-Increase patent extensions–could extend patents (already at 20 years) by up to 5 years

-Increase data exclusivity–preventing drug safety regulators from using existing data to approve generic drugs

So what can we do as medical students and future healthcare professionals?  Certainly an agreement with such far reaching implications for access to medicines will impact our careers, wherever we may practice.  And if we expect to practice good medicine it is our responsibility to respond to threats to our patients and to our ability to provide quality care.

Our power lies in our voice and the impact we can have by reaching out to our public officials making these decisions.

Fast Track has now moved on to the House.  As future healthcare providers it is our responsibility to educate our officials on the long-standing disastrous effects upon access to medicine of approving this bill.  Today, June 3, is a national day of action against fast track.  Use your voice as an advocate for patients and call your congressperson today to tell them to OPPOSE fast track.

It is our job to protect the health of our future patients–don’t let this agreement trade away their health.

Find your contact information for your representative here.

Want to learn more about Fast Track and the TPP?

Visit Public Citizen TPP and Public Health


MSF’s TPP and Access to Medicine

Want to get more involved with advocacy?

Check out our AMSA Initiatives and Campaigns