Zahra Hayat

AnthropologyUniversity of California / Berkeley

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2017 IDRF Program

AnthropologyUniversity of California / Berkeley

Intellectual Property's Futures and the Limits of Legality: Access to Cancer Drugs in Pakistan

I propose to ethnographically examine how the legality and licitness of cancer drugs are adjudicated at three sites in Lahore, Pakistan: a specialist criminal Drug Court; a specialist civil Intellectual Property Court; and a leading cancer hospital, offering free treatment to the financially needy. At stake is access to medicines in a country with one of the highest cancer burdens in the global South. At stake, too, are the futures of intellectual property, tied to medicine access via drug patents. Despite enactment of patent laws in 2005 to comply with the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement, Pakistan continues to challenge this paradigm's 'harmonization' ideals. This challenge is encapsulated by the proliferation of cancer drugs in Pakistan, where Big Pharma's prohibitively expensive, patented drugs jostle with potentially lethal, local 'fakes', as well as Indian generics—some officially imported, others smuggled across the Pak-Afghan border, a lifeline for the thousands unable to procure drugs via 'official' circuits. These proliferations necessitate complex adjudications of the legality and licitness of these drugs; I hypothesize that these adjudications are an instance of 'property's futures' emerging in the global South. I examine how, in these futures, legality and licitness are rendered at stake, evaluated not only against the binary of 'patented drug versus legal generic or illegal copy', but also against geopolitical factors such as trade relations with 'national enemy' India, ethical concern for patients, and doubts about drug safety. Since these adjudications ultimately determine access to cancer drugs, and thereby, who lives or dies, they are profoundly biopolitical. I ask: how is such a legally, geopolitically, and ethically inflected biopolitics enacted via multi-sited adjudications of the legality and licitness of cancer drugs? What adjudicative criteria are used, by whom? How do these adjudications unsettle 'legality' and 'licitness', and affect access to medicines?