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Indian Parliament Bows to WTO, Outlaws Affordable HIV/AIDS Drugs

Posted to the IUF website 23-Mar-2005

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India's parliament has bowed to a WTO-imposed deadline and on March 22 amended its patent legislation to bring it into line with the requirement of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). India's large pharmaceutical industry, using legislation which made it legal to copy patented products if different manufacturing processes were used, has supplied at low cost approximately 50 percent of the anti-retroviral drugs currently being taken by some 700,000 HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries. One year's retroviral treatment for a patient in Cameroon, for example, costs some USD 200 if Indian generics are used. The same treatment when supplied by the global pharmaceutical companies can cost USD 4,800.

The new legislation does, in practice, allow for compulsory licensing by the government to authorize production of a patented drug. But compulsory licensing requires royalty payments to the patent holder, and the licensing process is subject to long bureaucratic and legal delays.

While HIV/AIDS patients currently undergoing treatment with cheap Indian generics now face a fatally prohibitive increase in the cost of treatment, Novartis India welcomed the bill, declaring that it will "move India towards the patent mainstream and support and encourage innovation and investments in research and development."

Of the more than 35 million persons currently infected with the HIV virus, 26 million are workers. A 2003 FAO study determined that some 7 million African agricultural workers had been killed by AIDS, with an additional 16 million deaths anticipated in the next two decades. India, with more than 5 million recorded cases, has the second-highest number of HIV/AIDS infected persons, second only to South Africa. Nonetheless, it took India's parliament less than a week to read, debate and approve the bill.