Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+) is staging a mass demonstration in front of Udyog Bhavan on Wednesday to protest against the inclusion of intellectual property (IP) provisions in the EU-India free trade agreement (FTA) which they fear will affect people’s access to affordable HIV/AIDS drugs.
A crucial round of negotiations between India and European Commission on intellectual property provisions will take place from October 6 to 8 in New Delhi. The EU-India FTA negotiations are set to be concluded before the end of 2010.
HIV/AIDS patients and organizations involved in procuring medicines for HIV/AIDS patients, especially in the developing countries across the world, are worried that the EU-India trade and investment agreement being currently negotiated may further reduce India’s vital role as provider of life-saving treatments.
Already, with the introduction of the product patent regime in 2005, Indian generic drug companies cannot produce and supply new HIV medicines that will be needed soon for patients failing the second line antiretroviral therapy (ART). The reason: increasing number of patent barriers in India, pointed out members of the DNP+.
Last week, the DNP+ had sent a letter to the PM with a ”Don’t trade away our lives” appeal, which has been signed by 240 organizations across the world. The DNP+ letter pointed out that if EU-India FTA was concluded without removing the IP provisions, it would make access to medicines even more difficult, as the provisions intend to prolong patent terms by a number of years, make registration of off-patent generic medicines difficult, seek to undermine the Indian judiciary’s role of protecting patients, and finally try to legalize EU’s border measures that led to the confiscation of life-saving generic medicines in transit to developing countries.
A UN report has warned that the inclusion of intellectual property (IP) in the definition of investment could potentially subject IP to the general guarantees given to investors under the bilateral investment treaty providing a legal basis for foreign investors to take action against the host country for failing to protect their IP. Thus, multinational drug companies could potentially sue the Indian government for any government initiative to protect public health and access to treatment.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) as part of its campaigns for accessible medicines pointed out that the acquisition of key Indian generic companies like Ranbaxy by the Japanese firm Daiichi Sankyo and Shantha Biotech by Sanofi-aventis of France raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of generic production and supply to developing countries. The government of India could take steps to limit the stake of foreign investors in Indian generic companies but Article 4 (market access) of the draft investment chapter in the EU-India FTA clearly limits such measures and if implemented, it could be challenged by foreign investors. This provision clearly infringes on India’s policy space to regulate mergers and acquisitions of Indian generic producers, stated MSF.
Indian-produced generic AIDS drugs comprised 87% of antiretroviral purchase volumes and accounted for 91% of paediatric ARV volumes in 2008. AIDS treatment has experienced great progress over recent years, with about four million people starting treatment between 2003 and 2008, largely due to India’s ability to produce low-cost quality medicines.