February 08, 2012

Nearly 2,000 People Living with HIV Rally in Streets of Delhi as EU-India Summit Starts

A new free trade agreement between the EU and India could severely impact access to affordable medicine in developing countries.



India 2012 © Syddharth Singh

Nearly 2,000 people living with HIV rallied in the streets of New Delhi at the start of the EU-India summit along with MSF and other civil society organizations.

New Delhi, February 10, 2012—As India and the European Union (EU) meet for a summit in New Delhi today to iron out the differences over a free trade agreement (FTA), nearly two thousand people living with HIV and the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) protested in the streets of the Indian capital to warn that remaining harmful provisions in the agreement could have a severely negative impact on access to affordable medicine for people in developing countries.

“We have watched too many people die in places where we work because the medicines they need are too expensive,” said Dr. Unni Karunakara, international president of MSF. “We cannot allow this trade deal to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world.”

India produces quality affordable generic medicines that governments, UN agencies, and MSF rely on to treat people across the developing world. Thanks to competition among generics producers in India, the price of first-line HIV medicines has dropped by more than 99 percent, from US$10,000 per person per year in 2000 to roughly $150 today. This significant price decrease has supported the massive expansion of HIV treatment worldwide: more than 80 percent of the HIV medicines used to treat 6.6 million people in developing countries come from Indian producers, and 90 percent of pediatric HIV medicines are Indian-produced. MSF and other treatment providers also use Indian generic medicines to treat other diseases and conditions.

“Whether we get to live or die should not be up to trade negotiators,” said Mundrika Gahlot of the Delhi Network of Positive People. “We’re all here today with one clear message to India and the EU: Don’t trade away our lives.”

Existing trade rules already limit the possibility of making generic versions of new medicines, but the EU-India FTA threatens to make this situation even worse by creating new barriers. At the summit, both sides are set to announce "trade offs" in the negotiations, in which the EU has been pressuring India to agree to several measures that will affect the production, registration, and distribution of affordable generic medicines. MSF is particularly concerned about "enforcement" measures being pushed by the EU that could stop medicines at Indian ports from leaving the country on their way to patients in other developing countries, and could even draw treatment providers like MSF into court proceedings.

“What the EU is trying to do with this trade agreement is effectively slowly poison the production of affordable generic medicines in India, which has helped keep so many people alive,” said Piero Gandini, head of mission for MSF in India. “This trade agreement could target us as treatment providers, simply for buying generic medicines from India to treat patients in our programs.”

The protest in Delhi followed similar rallies this week by activists and people living with HIV in Nepal, Malaysia, the UK, South Africa, and Cameroon.

Harmful provisions in the EU-India FTA include:

  • "Enforcement" measures that could lead to generic medicines being prohibited from leaving India on their way to patients in other developing countries on the mere allegation that a patent or trademark is being infringed. This could also embroil treatment providers—such as MSF—in legal battles simply for providing generic medicines to patients.
  • The "investment" part of the FTA would expand companies’ ability to sue the Indian government when it regulates health in the public interest, for example by overriding a drug patent to increase access to a medicine, or through drug price controls. These disputes would be handled outside of domestic courts in secret settlement panels, with large sums in damages at stake. As a result of investment provisions in FTAs between other countries, several such disputes have already been filed by corporations against governments in order to force a reversal of public health policies (Phillip Morris v. Uruguay). Companies claim these policies lead to so called “expropriation” of their investments and profits.
  • A further measure—so-called "data exclusivity"—could effectively block generic production even if a patent is not granted or has expired. While the EU has stated that they are no longer officially demanding data exclusivity, behind closed doors, the EU continues to pressure India to change its laws. The EU must keep to its commitment not to put this back on the table.

MSF currently provides HIV treatment to 170,000 people in 19 countries.

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