At EU-India Summit, India Must Defend Its “Pharmacy of the Developing World”

MSF urges Indian Prime Minister not to cave into pressure from EU to accept trade deal that could prevent millions of people from accessing lifesaving medicines

New York/Brussels/Geneva/New Delhi, March 29, 2016 – Ahead of tomorrow’s EU-India Summit in Brussels, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is urging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resist pressure from the European Union to accept harmful provisions in a trade deal that would limit access to affordable medicines for millions of people.

During the Summit, Prime Minister Modi and EU officials are expected to announce the resumption of free trade agreement talks between the two trading partners. Negotiations started more than nine years ago, but have been mostly stalled for nearly three years. Many contentious issues remain on the negotiating table, including intellectual property issues, which could prevent and hinder the production and export of affordable generic medicines from India.

“India is such a vital source of affordable, generic lifesaving medicines on which millions of people around the world rely, that any blow to the pharmacy of the developing world would have disastrous consequences,” said MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu. “As a medical treatment provider to people in over 60 countries, MSF is incredibly reliant on generic medicines from India to do our work; two thirds of all the drugs we purchase to treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are Indian generics. The reality is we wouldn’t be able to treat as many people if it weren’t for affordable generic medicines from India.”

While intense pressure from groups of people living with HIV, hepatitis C and cancer led to the removal of some of the worst provisions over the years, a number of issues that would harm access to medicines remain. They include the enforcement of intellectual property, which – as proposed by the EU – could also mean legitimate medicines will be blocked from leaving India on their way to people in developing countries if a multinational company claims that their intellectual property is being infringed upon. It also means that third parties – such as treatment providers like MSF – could be embroiled in court cases simply for buying or using generic medicines that are under a patent dispute. Health consequences for any delay or interruption of treatment for many diseases could be serious.

“While the free trade negotiations have been on hold, the EU has moved to raise the bar higher on enforcing intellectual property, by introducing measures on goods in transit through the EU in its new rules on trademarks,” said Helle Aagaard, EU advocacy and policy advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “MSF has repeatedly called for the removal of such measures; we can’t afford to go back to a time where we kept seeing seizures of generic medicines within the EU that were intended to provide lifesaving treatment for people in developing countries.”

MSF relies heavily on affordable Indian generics to conduct its medical work. Over 97 percent of the antiretroviral medicines MSF purchases to treat 230,000 people for HIV, and three quarters of the anti-TB medicines to treat over 23,000 people for tuberculosis, are sourced from Indian generic companies.

“With the EU-India trade negotiations set to resume, there’s still so much at stake for access to medicines,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia regional head of MSF’s Access Campaign. “This EU-India Summit is where Prime Minister Modi needs to stand firm against Europe and tell them ‘no, India is not going to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world – too many lives are on the line.’”

In 2015, MSF launched the campaign to urge Prime Minister Modi to protect India’s production of lifesaving affordable generic medicines.