India’s Lower House of Parliament Passes Bill That Would Prohibit Production of Generic Versions of Patented Drugs
India's lower house of parliament on Tuesday passed a bill that would change the country's patent laws to prohibit the domestic production of low-cost, generic versions of patented drugs, including antiretroviral drugs, Reuters reports (Gupta, Reuters, 3/22). 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. 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 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, 3/22). The Indian government, which introduced the bill in parliament on Friday, says that recognizing patents is a necessary precondition for the nation's drug industry to pursue additional drug research and development and attract foreign investors, according to Reuters (Reuters, 3/22). The bill received approval after the government accepted amendments by "left-wing" allies to curb "potential abuses" by multinational companies, such as extending the duration of their patents and gaining dominance over India's market, the Financial Times reports (Jack/Johnson, Financial Times, 3/23). The bill must be passed by India's upper house of parliament to become law (BBC News, 3/22).
Health advocates on Wednesday criticized India's lower house for passing the patent legislation, saying that the measure "threatens millions of people around the world living with HIV/AIDS" and other diseases, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/23). "Because India is one of the world's biggest producers of generic drugs, this law will have a severe knock-on effect on many developing countries which depend on imported generic drugs from India," Samar Verma, regional policy adviser at Oxfam International, said (BBC News, 3/23). Medecins Sans Frontieres said the bill's passage is "the beginning of the end of affordable generics," the AP/Yahoo! News reports (Mahapatra, AP/Yahoo! News, 3/23). "Under the new legislation, we will see new medicines only available for the rich, while old treatments will be for the poor," Ellen 't Hoen, director of policy advocacy and research at MSF, said, adding, "Many people are building up resistance to the first generation of drugs and will need the newer treatments. But without the Indian drugs industry, where will they get cheap drugs from?" (Ramesh, Guardian, 3/23). About 40 health advocates from around the world on Wednesday gathered in New Delhi, India, to protest the bill, India's Hindu reports. "Cost-cutting generic competition has become the mainstay of HIV treatment and other ailments, and the government of India should support public health and access to medicines for all and not crack under pressure from the U.S. government and from large pharma companies," Fatima Hassan, a member of the South African HIV/AIDS advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said (Hindu, 3/23). In a letter addressed to Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress Party, several aid groups said, "We are deeply disturbed and concerned that you are failing to listen to the voices of your people who have entrusted you with their welfare, not to mention the poor in the developing world who rely on affordable medicine from India" (AP/Yahoo! News, 3/23). HIV/AIDS advocates also said the bill would make the drugs unaffordable for many HIV-positive patients worldwide, including people living with the disease in India (Katyal, Reuters, 3/22).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday reported on the legislation. The segment includes comments from 't Hoen; Daniel Berman, medicine coordinator at MSF; Ajit Dangi, director general of the Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India; and an advocate for affordable medicines in the country (Reeves, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/23). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.