Free Trade Agreement could threaten medicines for world’s poor

India has been described at the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’, providing a high proportion of the cheap drugs used by people living in poor countries.  But this could now be under threat as the European Union negotiates a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India.  Campaigners from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and other NGOs are now calling for changes to be made to the agreement to ensure that life-saving drugs will still be available to many of the world’s poor. 

Concerns centre around ‘data exclusivity’, which would prevent drugs companies relying on existing clinical trial data to produce and sell new drugs.  India has in the past given space for companies to produce cheaper generic medicines, by not fully implementing intellectual property rules.   Since 2005 India has started to change these rules, but only for truly innovative medicines, meaning that existing drugs can still be manufactured and sold cheaply. But this compromise could be under threat if the EU-India FTA is introduced in its current form.   

These changes could severely reduce access to medicines, particularly lifesaving HIV drugs, for the poorest people.  Competition between generic manufacturers in India has forced prices down.  The cost of AIDS treatment has dropped from $10,000 per patient per year in 2000 to under $70 today.  To give a sense of the scale of what’s at stake, MSF say that 80% of the HIV/AIDS medicines that they use come from generic manufacturers based in India. 

MSF have launched a campaign titled – ‘Europe! Hands off our Medicine’ – to try to ensure the EU and India find a solution which will protect access for the world’s poor to cheap medicines. More details about this can be found on the MSF website at http://www.msf.org.uk/handsoff.aspx.  Key negotiations are taking place in March and April.  NGOs and campaigners now need to scrutinise and campaign to make sure this Free-Trade Agreement contains the necessary measures to protect medicines for the poor.

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