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Trading away the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS
Access to affordable medicines is under threat for millions, both in India and round the world. The country is the source of 80 percent of the AIDS medicines used in all Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) projects and is effectively the pharmacy of the developing world.
However, the signing of a free trade agreement (FTA) could threaten this and closed-door negotiations between India and the European Union (EU) for this agreement enter a crucial phase on 28th April.
Europe is pushing India to impose greater intellectual property protection on medicines, measures which would delay the registration and marketing of generic medicines and would extend the duration of a patent. This would block competition and cause prohibitively high pricing – seriously putting at risk the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases in developing countries.
“Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht have both gone on record to say that the proposed FTA would not affect access to medicines from the generic industry,” said Michelle Childs, director of Policy & Advocacy at MSF. “But neither of them has given a public commitment that the provisions that affect generic competition are off the table. We will continue to fight against these provisions until they are officially and unequivocally out of the free trade agreement.”
Earlier in March people living with HIV/AIDS protested against the FTA in front of the Indian Ministry of Commerce in New Delhi.
Watch a video of the street demonstrations in India against the FTA
“The Indian government must not trade away our lives,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People. “Lifelong treatment for people living with HIV depends on continued access to newer AIDS medicines. Because of international trade rules that India has already signed in the past, some of our newer AIDS medicines are already patented and this makes them completely unaffordable. We want to know on behalf of whom our government is negotiating.”
Concerns have also been raised beyond India’s borders. In Africa, home to millions who depend on affordable generic drugs, any impact on access to cheaper Indian medicines could be catastrophic. This includes patients in MSF programmes.
Margaret Wangari is a mother of eight children who gets her antiretrovirals from MSF’s clinic in Mathare, a slum area in Nairobi, Kenya.
“If the generic drugs can be stopped, surely we can die…I can’t be able to care for my children, I can’t be able to care for me, I can’t be able to be a family again.”
In Brazil, a petition was launched warning against the consequences the India/EU deal would have on access to medicines in Brazil itself. In the past, activists in Brazil led a fight against a similar treaty with the U.S., to great effect.
The talks in Brussels start on Wednesday, 28th April in what is likely to be the final round of discussions before agreement is reached. The EU has said it wants the FTA signed before October, so the upcoming negotiations will likely be the last chance to exclude any harmful provisions from the treaty.