Don’t block affordable Indian medicines, EU urgedDecember 10th, 2010 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS
By Sarwar Kashani
Brussels, Dec 10 (IANS) As leaders from India and the European Union (EU) meet for a bilateral summit in the Belgian capital, health activists Friday urged the 27-nation bloc not to prevent access to affordable Indian medicines.
In a statement before the 11th India-EU summit opened, Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) - a global NGO that provides emergency aid to people - demanded that “the EU stop pursuing measures that undermine India’s role as a producer of affordable life-saving generic medicines”.
It said that over 80 percent of the AIDS medicines used to treat more than five million people across the developing world come from producers in India.
As a part of the negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, the European Union is pushing several provisions that would limit competition, in particular “data exclusivity”, which would act like a patent and block the marketing of generic medicines for up to 10 years.
“Alarmingly, data exclusivity would apply even for products that did not deserve a patent in the first place under India’s law. It would block the development of new fixed-dose combinations, where several medicines are combined into one pill, even though these cannot be patented in India,” the statement said.
At the Brussels summit, the two sides are setting the stage for the major trade and investment deal that is expected to multiply the quantum of business between them.
However, Indian negotiators have made it clear that they will make no compromise on intellectual property rights in the ongoing talks on the trade accord.
The comprehensive bilateral investment and trade agreement will not result in a regime far more stringent than the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), said an Indian official. “India will not accept any TRIPS-plus commitments as initially mooted by the European Union,” he said.
Peter Saranchuk, an HIV doctor for MSF, said: “A decade ago, people wouldn’t even bother getting tested for AIDS because they knew the drugs to treat them were too expensive anyway.”
“I refuse to go back ten years. We cannot let the Europeans shut down the supply of affordable medicines we and others rely on to treat patients around the world,” Saranchuk said, noting that India’s 2005 patent law fully respects international rules.
“Patents are only granted for medicines that show significant innovation, which is a fact that has long upset the pharmaceutical industry in wealthy countries. European drug companies have actively - but so far unsuccessfully - sought to challenge the law in Indian courts. Having lost in the courts, the companies are now using the European Commission’s trade policies to try to block generic competition in India,” he added.
MSF has organised protests in Belgium against the EU proposal on patents.
Michelle Childs, another MSF official participating in protests outside the Brussels summit, said: “We know that behind the scenes, Germany, the UK and France are the ones doing the bidding for their pharmaceutical industries to try to stamp out the competition from India.”
“The EU is trying to give their pharmaceutical companies a backdoor route to monopoly status, when they can’t get a patent through the front door,” Childs said.
Generic medicines from India have played a critical role in scaling up AIDS treatment across the developing world because until 2005, the country did not grant patents on medicines.
This allowed manufacturers to produce more affordable drugs, pushing their price down by more than 99 percent over the past decade.
But World Trade Organization rules obligated India to start granting medicine patents in 2005.
This is having a major impact on access to affordable versions of the newer generation of HIV/AIDS drugs.
Protests are also taking place this week in Nairobi, Bangkok, Jakarta and Brussels, as also in India, in opposition to the impact of the EU’s trade policies on access to medicines.
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