Access Campaign: At African Union – India meeting, leaders should work together to protect access to affordable medicines

New Delhi – As African leaders meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi for an African Union-India meeting this week, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urged African governments and India to work together to maintain trade in affordable generic medicines that is a lifeline for millions of people in India, Africa and other developing countries.

India is under considerable bilateral pressure from the United States and other developed countries to roll back its pro-public-health intellectual property policies that has put access to vital lifesaving generic drugs above the profits of multinational pharmaceutical companies. India is known as the ‘pharmacy of the developing world,’ with more than 80% of HIV medicines used in developing countries, for example, being generics from India.

“In 2005 when India needed to amend its patent laws, the government made the conscious decision to protect people over profits and implemented some key pro-public health provisions”, said Leena Menghaney, Head-South Asia, MSF Access Campaign. “India’s policies have allowed for the production of affordable generic medicines which many millions of people across the developing world, including Africa, rely on.”

The historical lack of patent barriers in India opened up generic production of some older antiretroviral drugs, allowing the price of HIV drugs to be driven down from over US$10,000 per person per year in 2000; today the recommended first-line treatment costs governments in Africa and India just over $100 per patient per year, and 15 million people in the developing world now receive HIV treatment.

MSF uses generic medicines made in India to treat more than 200,000 people living with HIV in its programmes, and relies on Indian generics to treat many other diseases and conditions, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.

“The Indian Prime Minister must consider the need to combat growing epidemics such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, where treatment for just one patient can cost several thousand dollars”, said Menghaney. “The cost of newer drugs to treat multi drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) could be cut by up to 95% if generic versions could be produced in India the same way as HIV drugs. India needs to continue its production and supply of lower-cost generics, which are essential for public health.”

“We were able to scale up HIV treatment in our programmes because Indian generic medicines made treatment more affordable,” said Dr. Gilles Van Cutsem, Medical Coordinator for MSF in South Africa. “We shudder at the threats that India faces from the US government, other developed countries, and multinational drug companies. Any shift in India’s policy would dramatically undermine access to affordable medicines that we need in India, across Africa and beyond.”

MSF is urging African leaders and India to work together to combat efforts to undermine the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’.

“African leaders really should see this summit as an opportunity to work together with Prime Minister Modi to protect affordable access for people across the developing world”, said Dr Van Cutsem. “They need to remember that millions of people in Africa are alive today because of affordable medicines made in India.”