/ TRIPs / deadly /
India's lower house of parliament passed a patents bill on Tuesday making it illegal to copy patented drugs, a practice that has made cheaper medicines available in India and abroad...
...The bill was approved after the government conceded demands from its communist allies and included some of the amendments suggested by them which included allowing export of pharmaceutical products to least developed countries.
Earlier, the legislation had faced resistance from the ruling coalition's allies and opposition parties who were concerned about the availability of affordable drugs in India...
..."Fifty percent of people with AIDS in the developing world depend on generic drugs from India," Ellen 't Hoen, director of policy advocacy and research at relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, told a news conference.
"The patent law will cut the lifeline to other countries. Besides, the Doha declaration also says that countries should design products so that they protect public health"...
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is supporting the law after most of its proposed amendments were accepted. This is their (rather defensive) explanation of events.
Humanitarian organisations are far from happy. Medecins Sand Frontiers report that despite "The worst-case scenario for people living with life-threatening diseases" being averted, but "only in the short-term". They say that, among other problems:
...People who rely on low-cost medicines will have to wait three years before a generic company can even make an application for a right to produce the drug. Whereas people in wealthy countries will have access to new medicines immediately when they are proved safe and effective, people in poor countries will have to wait years...
It is indicative that there protests about the Indian law change in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where HIV patients are dependent on cheap Indian generic anti-HIV drugs. The Guardian quotes a South African anti-AIDS activist:
Campaigners say African countries, where health budgets are already stretched will find it almost impossible to fund the new medicines.
"In Cameroon we pay $200 a year for each Aids patient's treatment, which is an Indian generic manufacturer's product," said Fatima Hassan of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign. "The latest drugs are only supplied by western multinationals and they cost $4,800 a year. We cannot afford those prices."
Many in the generics industry say what is being given away goes against the national interest. Yusuf Hameid, the head of Cipla, one of the main generic manufacturers of HIV drugs, says India can "not afford monopolies".
He added: "Medicines in India used to be unaffordable until we adopted our patent laws in the 1970s.
"Our population and pattern of diseases means we have to increase affordability and accessibility."
Older Guardian report on the AIDS divide. Of immediate relevance is this story.