The Citizen (Dar es Salaam)

20 December 2010

Africa: Worry for Aids Patients Ahead of EU-India Deal

Arusha — The free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated between India and European Union threatens the production of generic medicines, a consequences of which would be, among others things, adverse affect to millions of HIV patients, The Citizen has been informed.

The coordinator for Network of African People Living with HIV in East African Region (NAP+ EAR), Mr Joe Muriuki, said yesterday that nearly 4 million Aids patients currently under antiretroviral (ARVs) in the region are now living in constant fear over the looming EU-India FTA deal.

"EU is presently negotiating a FTA with India, which includes intellectual property rights (IPR) provisions that could seriously jeopardise access to essential medicines including ARVs", Mr Muriuki told The Citizen in Arusha.

Some provisions of the EU-India Agreement seek to impose higher standards of intellectual property protection that would limit, and in some cases completely bar India from producing generic ARVs and other medicines.

Data exclusivity clause will ensure that owners of branded drugs gain 10 more years in patent time in addition to 10 years guaranteed under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Right (TRIPS) and thus hurt current and future manufacturers of generic drugs.

"Our worry is very real, because millions of Aids patients in the developing world depend on India for generic medicines at affordable costs," the NAP+ EAR chief noted.

Available records show that 92 per cent of people living with HIV on treatment in low and middle-income countries currently use generic antiretroviral (ARVs), mostly manufactured in India.

For example, Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) buys 80 per cent of its Aids medicines from Indian companies. Some 90 per cent of Aids drugs provided to 13 countries by PEPFAR - the US President global Aids programme - are generics, the overwhelming majority of them also produced in India.

These measures could result in a huge increase in the price of essential medicines and greater government expenditure on health.

With regards to these concerns, MSF has written to European Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht urging him to ensure that access to ART combination pills - which the group says have "revolutionised" HIV treatment - is not curtailed under the FTA.

"Restriction of generic drug production in India will have a devastating public health impact around the world and adversely affect the right to health of millions of patients" Mr Muriuki said.

"It's very painful indeed to see the EU-India draft FTA which, as it stands, places trade interests over human rights," a Kenyan leading activist, Patricia Asero said.

Ms Asero says that if the EU-India FTA agreement is sealed, the world would witness millions of helpless HIV patients in developing countries go to the early graves.

She urged the entire world to shout against the EU-India FTA specific clause of data exclusivity, patent term extensions, and enforcement and border measures, in a bid to avert human catastrophe.

Contacted for comment, the Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Deo Mtasiwa, the matter would be reviewed by the relevant ministries that are better placed to explain the impending India-EU deal and its implications to Tanzania.

He mentioned the ministries as Industries, Trade and Marketing, Finance and Economic Affairs and Foreign and International Co-operation.

"I am not aware of the FTA negotiations between India and EU but we will have to make a follow-up so that we can find out its implications to our people," said Dr Mtasiwa when reached by phone last evening.

Interacting with the Aids network activists last week, the Arusha Urban MP, Mr Godbless Lema, committed himself to fully support their push against the ongoing negotiation between EU-India FTA.

Mr Lema was touched by the activists' concern over the fact that EU-India FTA will include a clause on data exclusivity that threatens the production of generic ARV drugs.

"As you rightly put it, most of your members depend on generic drugs to keep alive as branded drugs are too expensive for most developing countries. It means generic drugs will be locked out of the market and for most PLHIV that is a sure death warrant. Let's join forces to clock the EU-India FTA plan" said Mr Lema.

"I would like to assure you of our unreserved support; as MPs we shall table this issue in Parliament and together; we will also seek support from our East African Legislative Assembly counterparts," he noted, adding:

"At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many free trade agreements we have signed, how much money we have made out of FTAs, how many great things we have done."

*Additional reporting by Lucas Liganga in Dar es Salaam

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