News Release

WTO Rules: Pulling the Plug on Hundreds of Thousands with AIDS?


The Associated Press reports that “international aid groups slammed India’s passage on Wednesday of a new patent law that ends the decades-old practice of allowing domestic drug companies to make low-cost copies of expensive Western medicines, saying millions of poor people across the world will be affected.

“The changes in patent rights stem from India’s membership in the World Trade Organization, which … requires it to enforce stricter patent rules for its $5 billion pharmaceutical industry.”
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Russell is director of international advocacy for the group Health GAP. She said today: “India was pressured by big pharma and the U.S. government to bring an overly restrictive act into law, and to abdicate its responsibility as the world’s leading supplier of low-cost generic versions of life-saving medicines including AIDS drugs. Pressure from civil society resulted in several positive changes — but India has refused to simplify and streamline its compulsory licensing rules in order to assure sub-Saharan African countries and other countries heavily impacted by the AIDS pandemic that regular production of newer generic medicines will continue. This is an avoidable tragedy.”
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Grover, convenor of the Affordable Medicines and Treatment Campaign in India, said: “In 1981, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Congress Party denounced patents. Today the Congress Party tainted this historical legacy by introducing an overly restrictive patent law that severely curtails the ability of the developing countries to access affordable medicines. It has betrayed the pro-poor platform on which it was elected.”

Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said: “Today I am using generic AIDS drugs because I can afford the price. Since the bill has passed, when I need new drugs, I won’t be able to afford them. I could become one of the casualties of this new law.”

Menghaney, of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, said today: “The real fight begins now. We will do everything to ensure that dubious patents are not granted by challenging them at all levels. When legitimate patents are granted we will, when necessary, push for compulsory licences with fair royalties that reflect industry norms.”

Executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, Zeitz said today: “In my work in Africa I saw the benefits of the price reductions for AIDS medication resulting from generic competition. This process has been fueled by Indian production, which has helped reduce the prices of antiretrovirals by as much as 98 percent. But, India’s revision of its Patents Act will present major obstacles to the routine generic production of newer, more expensive ‘second-line’ AIDS medicines. This will eventually have a major impact not only on Global Fund programs but on the U.S. bilateral program as well, since 20 percent of all patients taking first-line drugs begin needing second-line drugs after three years of therapy. It is tragic that the Indian government did not fully prioritize protections for public health and access to medicines. We appeal to India to amend this law in a way that allows for full transparency, ensure a rapid process, and set reasonable levels for royalties. India should also do much more to ensure its people have access to HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, prevention services and treatment on a nationwide basis.”
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Just back from India, where he followed the battle around the Indian legislation, Love is director of the Consumer Project on Technology. He said today: “Mahatma Gandhi helped secure Indian independence by breaking the salt monopoly. Indira Gandhi broke the patent monopoly for medicines in 1970. Now, Sonia Gandhi is backing the restoration of the patent monopoly for medicines in 2005. The WTO requires India to change its patent law, but it permits a compromise — patents without monopolies, under a system of compulsory licensing and payments of modest and affordable royalties to patent owners. This week the left forced mandatory compulsory licenses on the thousands of patents filed under the ‘Mailbox’ system, which will set an important model for the future. Next, India has to extend the mandatory compulsory licensing of medicine to the new products that will be put on the market in the future. This week’s events were only the beginning of a battle to set the rules for compulsory licensing of patents in India.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167