Briar Mannering: Put NZ's health before interests of big pharma

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Many provisions in the TPPA threaten New Zealand's ability to legislate for our best interests. Photo / File
Many provisions in the TPPA threaten New Zealand's ability to legislate for our best interests. Photo / File

Leaked proposed provisions of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement could affect our ability to treat chronic diseases. Apart from the social cost to New Zealand, this will create a drain of taxpayer dollars.

I entered medicine in the hope I could one day make people healthy.

However, the TPPA threatens our ability to provide even the most basic of care to patients.

The TPPA is an agreement between 11 nations including America and New Zealand, planned to be signed by October next year.

New Zealand citizens currently enjoy $3 prescriptions for essential medicines, thanks to Pharmac, a government agency with monopoly buying power from transnational pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma).

However, this could be weakened through Prime Minister John Key's eagerness to sign the "all or nothing" agreement, with extended patents and provisions which would allow Big Pharma to challenge Pharmac's decision making process.

This would result in increased costs for essential medicines. As Pharmac has a limited budget, the brunt of these costs would be borne by patients filling their prescriptions.

People most likely to have chronic diseases are in lower socioeconomic groups, so the people who need medicines the most are those least able to afford them.

New Zealand's anti-tobacco legislation will also be threatened. If provisions on investor-state dispute settlements are included, companies such as Philip Morris or British American Tobacco could sue the New Zealand Government in overseas courts if laws are seen to damage their investments.

The TPPA would become a weapon similar to the trade agreement Australia had with Hong Kong which allowed the Australian Government to be sued over plain packaging of cigarettes, except the TPPA would be much stronger.

As the negotiations are held in secret, knowledge of the agreement must come from leaked texts, published on websites such as the Citizens Trade Campaign.

It has long been recognised that prevention (in this case, of chronic diseases) is the best cure. It's cheaper, more effective and supports basic human rights.

However, many provisions in the TPPA threaten New Zealand's ability to legislate for our best interests.

Instead, our patent and public health laws (among others) are to be decided in Washington.

Here's hoping our leaders value the health of New Zealand's citizens over the rights of multinational corporations.


- Briar Mannering is a second-year medical student at Auckland University and writes on behalf of the Medical Students' Association.

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