Worldwide protests are underway as trade talks between India and the European Union come closer to finalizing a free-trade agreement (FTA). Both sides argue that it will provide greater access to better medicines that treat HIV, AIDS, cancer and the like. However, humanitarian groups such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)is calling for international protests against the FTA because as India is the “pharmacy of the developing world,” this agreement would make generic drugs less available to developing countries. Currently, India frequently ignores patents, and the FTA promises “cheaper access to European goods & markets” in exchange for India’s compliance with intellectual property rights of pharmaceuticals. Another provision also makes it easier for the companies that violate IP rights to be sued and any drugs that are shipped off, will be stopped at ports of entry.
Since 2000, MSF has claimed that the cost of first-line HIV medicines has dropped from $10,000 to $150 per patient per year due to generic drug production in India. Now with the possibility of the India-E.U. pact, Loog Gangte, a patient with HIV who currently pays 130 pounds sterling a year for HIV medication, expects to pay 7,000 pounds sterling a year. This is relatively $11,000, so it seems as if the FTA is a regression from the progress once made in the last 12 years of generic drug production.
In fact to me, it goes against Millennium Development Goal 6, to stop and reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS related diseases by 2015. The MDGs were agreed upon by 177 countries, so why is a pact like this even possible? There are approximately 2.5 million HIV-infected people in India , who because of the low-cost of generic drugs are able to hold onto life. The United States currently relies on the majority of the drugs to combat HIV in Africa as a part of the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for Aid’s Relief) program.
The FTA would be the world’s largest, covering 1.7 billion people, but I still am having trouble grasping the benefits of this pact. Under this umbrella of coverage, I am sure there are those that did not have access to medications before. However, now it will be on a larger scale that people will be presented with unaffordable drugs, and no access to low-cost generics that are constantly supplied by Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers. The European Union repeatedly defends its side of the pact stating that it will not “limit India’s freedom to produce and export lifesaving medicines.” Meaning that where necessary the poorest will still be able to obtain the medication they need. However, if the poor will still have access, where is the line drawn when 40% of the population lives on $2/day or less? What is “poorest” to the European Union? While articles have stressed the effect of this agreement on the HIV-infected population it is important to note that the producers of generic drugs in India are not just focused in the market for those particular drugs. This pact will hurt virtually anyone who relies on generic drugs produced and exported from India.