Aproposed free-trade agreement between India and the European Union set to be discussed today could restrict access to life-saving medicines for more than 48,000 people with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, union and civil society representatives said yesterday.
Thirteen organisations delivered a statement to the EU Delegation and Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh, condemning the inclusion of intellectual property (IP) provisions in an agreement that they say is “very likely to undermine the stable supply of affordable life-saving medicines to poorer parts of the world”.
Prum Dalish, acting co-ordinator of NGO Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, said yesterday that protesters were demanding a halt to negotiations.
“We demand that they cancel the agreement, because it will seriously affect the production and distribution of generic drugs from India to developing countries,” she said, adding that costs for anti-retroviral drugs could increase fifteen-fold.
“Affordable generic drugs are absolutely vital for the lives of millions who otherwise cannot afford expensive treatment of life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV-AIDS,” the statement said.
The controversial and heavily delayed agreement has been in negotiation since 2007.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to hold comprehensive talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the agreement when he arrives in Germany today.
Activist group Knowledge Ecology International, an NGO that tracks intellectual property policy development, published an unverified leak of the IP provisions of the agreement online last month, sparking renewed outcry from health and civil society organisations.
Leena Menghaney, India representative for Medecines Sans Frontieres’s “Access to Essential Medicines” campaign, says the leaked provisions show punitive measures designed to “stamp out competition from generic manufacturers”.
The leaked text indicates that the agreement goes beyond World Trade Organisation (WTO) guidelines on trade-related intellectual property rights, IP experts say.
A 2001 WTO declaration affirmed that trade-related intellectual property rights should be interpreted and implemented to protect public health and access to medicines in developing countries.
“[Companies] don’t want Indian courts to look at the issues patients face. Injunctions should not be granted if patients in India or in other countries are left without access to medicines,” Menghaney said.
Anti-retroviral treatment in Cambodia has reached almost full coverage in a decade, largely thanks to affordable drugs from India, UNAIDS said in a statement. “UNAIDS calls on all countries to ensure efforts towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support are not impeded by bilateral and multilateral trade agreements,” it said.
The European Delegation and the Indian Embassy could not be reached for comment.