A PROPOSED free trade pact between India and the European Union could severely restrict access to life-saving medicines for more than 40,000 Cambodian HIV/AIDS sufferers, rights activists and government officials have warned.
In a statement yesterday, the Cambodian People Living with HIV/AIDS Network, or CPN, called on India to reject proposed intellectual property rules that it said could hamstring the country’s production of generic medicines.
“The EU is pushing for India to accept intellectual property provisions which would restrict India’s production of generic medicines,” Keo Chen, the network’s national coordinator, said in the statement.
“India produces 90 percent of AIDS medicines used in Cambodia, so the health of people living with HIV is hanging in the balance.”
Echoing similar concerns from across the developing world, CPN stated that the EU’s push to include “patent term extensions” and other intellectual property provisions in the trade pact would reduce India’s ability to produce inexpensive generic drugs.
Other provisions sought by the EU, it stated, would oblige Delhi to prioritise the enforcement of intellectual property, or TRIPS, rules and “effectively deter” generic competition by Indian companies.
“These and other such provisions will affect the production, registration, transportation and supply of generic medicines from India,” Keo Chen said.
“Treatment for millions of people living with HIV will be interrupted and lives lost. It is, therefore, imperative that India does not agree to any TRIPS-plus provisions or compromise on the flexibilities available under the TRIPS Agreement.”
Cambodia’s heavy reliance on generic anti-retroviral drugs from India means that the introduction of harsh IP rules could endanger the universal access to such treatments, said Tia Phalla, vice chairman of the National AIDS Authority.
“This is a sensitive issue because we have more than 40,000 people who are on ARVs. If the price of these multiplies by five or 10, we can’t afford it,” he said. “We need these drugs.”
In a statement on November 8, global health group Medecins Sans Frontieres called on EU trade officials to halt actions that would “dramatically restrict access” to affordable medicines in developing countries.
MSF cited a recent study claiming that more than 80 percent of all donor-funded HIV medicine purchases for developing countries between 2003 and 2008 were made from Indian pharmaceutical companies.
In April, AFP quoted a European Commission spokesman as saying it was “100 percent” committed to ensuring access to life-saving medicines and that there was nothing in the trade deal that would limit India’s ability to provide such treatments.
UNAIDS Country Coordinator Tony Lisle yesterday expressed hopes the Europeans would recognise India’s vital role as a producer of cheap drugs and allow exemptions from the TRIPS provisions agreed during the Doha Round of free trade talks.
“We would hope that the EU would ensure the TRIPS provisions … are not brought into force and would respect the right of India to maintain its capacity to export life-saving medicines,” he said yesterday, speaking in a personal capacity.
“We hope there will not be any weakening of these provisions.”
The EU and India have been negotiating the free trade deal since 2007, which is expected to be signed at a summit in December. Negotiations reopened in Brussels earlier this month, though disagreements relating to intellectual property, child labour and environmental issues remain.
CPN and HIV/AIDS sufferers will today make a public call for India to ensure the proposed free trade agreement does not impede developing countries’ access to generic drugs.