Indian Legislation Would Prohibit Production of Generic Versions of Patented Drugs; AIDS Advocates Voice Opposition
India's government on Friday in parliament proposed legislation that would change the country's patent laws to prohibit the domestic production of low-cost, generic versions of patented drugs, but HIV/AIDS advocates and others expressed opposition to the bill, Reuters reports. India's generic drug industry has made less-expensive medications available in India and abroad for more than 30 years, making it possible for many people in developing countries to receive treatment (Arackaparambil, Reuters, 3/18). India, which is the third-largest producer and a major exporter of generic drugs, previously did not recognize international patents, allowing the country to produce generic versions of medications that are patented in other countries as long as they use a different manufacturing process. However, the bill would change India's laws to bring it in line with a World Trade Organization agreement on intellectual property that it signed in 1994.
Legal experts and AIDS advocates have asked parliament to reject the order or allow it to expire in six months so that it can be revised (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/1). Ellen 't Hoen, director of policy advocacy and research at Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in a statement earlier this week, "We believe they (the amendments) will drastically restrict, perhaps even prevent, the production and supply of vital therapies by Indian pharmaceutical companies to other developing countries." The group said that about half of the 700,000 HIV-positive patients in low- and middle-income countries currently receiving antiretroviral drug treatment are taking Indian generic drugs, Reuters reports (Reuters, 3/18). However, government officials said that the legislation would not prevent Indian drug companies from manufacturing and supplying less-expensive, generic antiretroviral drugs to developing countries, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. The officials said that the companies under WTO rules would be allowed to supply the drugs to developing nations that do not have domestic drug manufacturing facilities, according to AFP/Yahoo! News.
Sadik, Lewis Letter
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Nafis Sadik and U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis in a letter dated March 11 asked the Indian government to make "enlightened decisions" in amending its patents law, India Express reports. The letter, sent to Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asked the government to include amendments in the act to "ensure that the world is not deprived of affordable and quality drugs for AIDS treatment," according to India Express. "It is our fervent hope that amendments to the Patents Act will be made in praiseworthy spirit that characterized India's courageous leadership during negotiations at the WTO's Uruguay round and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and public health," the letter says, adding, "Your government's long history of ensuring the primacy of public health over intellectual property set the stage for principled positions and legislation promoting access to essential HIV medicines" (India Express, 3/16).