U.S. Pressure On India's Pro-health Patent Law Threatens Sustainable Development Goals
Asia Pacific Network of People living with HIV/ AIDS (APN+) and HEALTHGAP Call on India to stand strong and defend the pharmacy of the Developing World
25 September 2015, Bangkok and New York – As world leaders gather in New York to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Asia Pacific Network of People living with HIV/AIDS and Health GAP (Global Access Project) are demanding the U.S. immediately stop pressure on India to change its pro-health patent and data protection laws, which they warn would put realization of health SDGs out of reach for much of the world and directly contradict the goals and targets being set at the UN.
“For millions of patients around the world, India is a life line for medicines,” said Shiba Phurailatpam, Regional Co-ordinator of the Asia-Pacific Network of People living with HIV/AIDS. “US pressure on India’s generic manufacturing capacity has escalated alarmingly in the past few years threatening the lives and health of millions in the developing world.”
The Sustainable Development Summit in New York will adopt 17 goals including Goal 3 on health. Experts and activists warned targets of ending global pandemics and achieving universal health coverage require affordable, high-quality drugs—the majority of which are produced in India.
This is why the SDGs also include the prominent target to: “Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and noncommunicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights [TRIPS] regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.”
At the behest of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, however, the Obama administration has been actively pressuring the Indian government to do exactly the opposite—to give up its fully legal use of flexibilities in World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement — and threatening trade sanctions if the Modi government refuses.
“India has been the leading example globally of the most effective use of TRIPS flexibilities,” said Prof Brook Baker, Senior Policy Analyst at Health GAP. “Over the next 15 years, the global community is setting ambitious goals to tackle communicable and non-communicable diseases. The experience of HIV has shown that getting 15 million on treatment by 2015 was achieved in large part thanks to generic competition and this is reflected in the SDGs. Without safe, effective and affordable generic medicines, there will be little hope of achieving the SDGs, which is why U.S. pressure on India to cripple generics and to support big pharma monopolies is so out of step with the Administration’s statements at the UN today,” he said.
TRIPS flexibilities refer to the use of provisions in the TRIPS agreement that allow countries to adopt pro-health provisions in their national patent and data protection laws to ensure that only high-quality patents are granted and that there are safety valves to ensure patents and data rules do not prevent countries from providing access to medicines to their population. In 2001, Indian companies were able to offer AIDS treatment for less than a dollar a day catalyzing global commitment to tackling the AIDS epidemic. Since 2005 when India complied with TRIPS, the use of TRIPS flexibilities like strict patentability criteria to prevent evergreening and improve the quality of granted patents and patent oppositions have been critical to continuing generic production and supply from India. India’s lone compulsory license dropped the price of a liver and kidney cancer drug from $4200 to $134 per month.
“Patients and health groups are using the provisions of India’s pro-health laws to challenge patent applications on minor changes made to existing medicines,” said Phurailatpam. “The impact of their victories is felt across India’s borders as Indian companies remain free to manufacture and export generic versions of these critical medicines. The success of India’s pro-health safeguards is leading other developing countries to adopt similar measures to protect public health and prevent abuse my multinational pharmaceutical companies. Now more than ever, as India and other developing countries are faced with patented drugs priced in thousands of dollars, the Indian government must promote, protect and make full use of its pro-health patent law and not succumb to big pharma pressure to dilute it.”
There is however, growing concern that the relentless pressure of big pharma and the resulting pressure from the U.S. government may push the Indian government to compromise its long held position on supporting and promoting generic production of medicines.
“Even for a strong, emerging economy like India, geo-political realities mean that the pressure from the US can have a very real impact on the ground. President Obama must stop pushing the agenda of the multinational pharmaceutical industry on India,” said Baker. “Denying millions across the developing world access to life saving medicines is hardly the legacy this President should leave behind.”
“The Indian PM and his government have been forced to repeatedly state that India respects IPR in the face of a relentless and malicious misinformation campaign by big pharma. India has complied with its international IP obligations under the WTO for the past 10 years and its balanced use of TRIPS flexibilities has brought the benefits of medical technology into the hands of millions of poor patients in developing countries. This is something the Indian PM should be proud of and not have to repeatedly explain and justify,” added Phurailatpam.
Now, as the Indian Prime Minister addresses heads of State in New York at the Sustainable Development Summit, APN+ and Health GAP call on India to not only stand strong against US pressure and defend the pharmacy of the developing world but to showcase it to the world as a pathway to achieving the ambitious health targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In New York: Matthew Kavanagh, Health GAP, +1 202-486-2488; firstname.lastname@example.org
In Bangkok: Shiba Phurailatpam, APN+, +66866000738; email@example.com