MSF campaigns to uphold cheap Indian generics

Charity Médecins Sans Frontières is urging Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to stand tall and not give in to pressure from the US, Japan and Europe to change India’s laws and policies which could restrict the country’s ability to produce affordable medicines.

Also known as Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the humanitarian aid organisation says changes put forward at negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement which India is a part of – contain damaging provisions, “all of which go beyond India’s obligations under international trade rules”.

The RCEP centres around a free trade deal between Southeast Asian nations and Japan, Australia, China, India, New Zealand and South Korea.

MSF launched the campaign as the eighth round of negotiations for the RCEP trade agreement were taking place in Kyoto, Japan – which it says contains harmful proposals that would undermine access to medicines for the most vulnerable.

“As doctors who have been relying on affordable medicines and vaccines made in India to do our work, we cannot afford to stand by silently as the tap of life-saving drugs gets turned off for people in our projects and beyond”, says Dr Joanne Liu, International president of MSF.

“We want to send India a strong message of support as the world is watching anxiously to make sure it remains the ‘pharmacy of the developing world.’”

MSF recently took part in a Pharmafocus debate alongside the director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), with each arguing a case for how fair the prices are for hepatitis C treatments.

But in this case MSF says these new proposals would restrict the Indian regulator’s power to allow local producers to make and sell cheaper copies of drugs, unless they conduct large and expensive clinical trials.

It notes that the US government in particular – backed strongly by pharma lobbying – is not only pressuring India to dilute its patentability standards but has been persistently pushing India to implement a drug regulatory system which essentially links registration of medicines to their patent status (patent linkage), and that the Indian Ministry of Health appears to be seriously considering such changes.

Over recent years big pharma has struggled to retain exclusivity on their drugs in India and have criticised the country’s patent laws, which they say are designed to favour the local producers.

Meanwhile the MSF will continue its campaign, and Leena Menghaney who is the charity’s South Asia director for access concludes: “We shudder at the thought that we could lose everything and the multinational pharmaceutical industry could succeed in gutting generic competition from India so that profit reigns above people’s lives.”

Brett Wells

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