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[e-drug] MSF: Protect India's Pharmacy of the developing world

E-DRUG: MSF: Protect India's Pharmacy of the developing world


June 07, 2016, 08:01 am
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières to India: Protect the 
“pharmacy of the developing world”
By Judit Rius Sanjuan

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), governments and 
treatment providers all over the world rely on generic medicines and vaccines 
from India. More than 96 percent of the medicines MSF uses in our medical 
operations to treat more than 200,000 people with HIV are generics from 
India—not to mention the tens of thousands of people we treat with quality and 
affordable generic medicines for tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious 

Despite the importance of Indian generics, the ‘pharmacy of the developing 
world’ is under threat. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to 
address a joint session of US Congress this week, Doctors Without Borders is 
calling on both the Indian and United States governments to protect India’s 
place as a critical center of generic drug production.

India, like the United States, provides patent protection for new medicines and 
vaccines, which delays low cost generic competition.  Yet unlike the US, 
low-cost generics are often available much earlier in India.  One critical 
reason is that the legal regime in India allows for a balanced implementation 
of the country’s international trade obligations to grant patents on 
pharmaceutical products. For example, unlike the United States and other 
countries, India sets the bar higher as to what does and does not deserve a 
patent. In India, pharmaceutical companies cannot just make a small improvement 
to an existing medicine and expect to be given 20 years of additional monopoly 
protection, an abusive practice employed by the pharmaceutical industry known 
as ‘patent ever-greening.’ 

India has also refused to introduce a range of other unnecessary measures that 
would do nothing to advance innovation and would only restrict access to 
low-cost medicines in India and around the world.

In recent years, MSF has grown increasingly alarmed with the escalating efforts 
of US industry groups, including BIO and PhRMA, which demand the White House 
and Congress apply pressure on India to modify its intellectual property law in 
a manner that would irreversibly damage public health.  We are disappointed 
that the US government has agreed to these demands and dramatically stepped up 
its efforts to pressure India into changing its intellectual property laws, 
rules and policies.

BIO and PhRMA claim its efforts are to increase innovation. Yet stricter 
intellectual property rules do little to enhance innovation, including for 
diseases, such as tuberculosis, that particularly affect the countries in which 
the demands are made.  The challenge today is not only that governments are 
failing to spend enough on needs-based innovation; it is that they are paying 
too much into a system that is not working. Nearly 40 percent of research and 
development is already paid for by the public and philanthropic sectors, and 
the expenditure on medicines and vaccines exceeds one trillion dollars 
globally. Drug companies do not spend enough on needs-based innovation, instead 
spending more on marketing than on research and development and, as recent 
figures attest, spending more on share buy-backs and dividends, designed to 
boost executive pay, than on medical innovation. We need a system that ensures 
not only that all governments pay for innovation, but that innovation is 
needs-driven and affordable to all.

The goal of the pharmaceutical industry pressure on India is to remove any 
balance between the rewards provided to companies for investments in research 
and development with the need to ensure affordable medicine prices and guard 
against abuse. India’s patent laws are not only important for India; they are 
an important model for the US and others on how governments could pay for 
innovation while establishing limits on how companies abuse the system to 
charge unaffordable prices and limit competition.

Indeed, by striking a balance between innovation and affordability, India’s 
laws and policies have saved lives. HIV treatment regimens that used to cost 
$10,000 15 years ago now cost $100 per person thanks to generic drugs from 
India. That’s a 99-percent reduction in cost, which means worldwide today 
almost 16 million people with HIV are getting the treatment they need, 
including many supported by the financial contributions of the US government to 
the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

India’s policies are not only fully consistent with global trade rules, but 
also coherent with public health commitments and needs of both India and the 
United States. India must unequivocally reject the intellectual property laws 
and practices of the United States that have led to an unprecedented global 
health crisis: spiralling medicine prices held hostage to lengthy and multiple 
monopolies, including new cures for hepatitis being prices at the absurd price 
tag of 1,000 USD per pill.
Judit Rius Sanjuan, US Manager & Legal Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access 
Campaign. MSF is a medical humanitarian organization that relies on both 
innovation and affordable access to medicines and other medical technologies to 
perform its medical operations.

Jennifer Reid
Researcher, MSF Access Campaign
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
333 Seventh Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10001
Phone:  +1-212-763-5714
Email: jennifer.reid@newyork.msf.org

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