AIDS activists concerned over drug prices post-patent

P T Jyothi Datta, Hindu Business Line

Medicines supplied by Indian drug majors had been a lifeline not just for HIV/AIDS patients in the country, but more so in African countries like Nigeria. “The fact that we have access to treatment simply means that more of us can stay alive,” says Ms Rolake Nwagwu of Nigeria’s Positive Treatment Action Movement.

When Ms Nwagwu was put onto anti-AIDS drugs about six years ago, she had to fork out about $500 per month for her supply of anti-AIDS drugs.Today, she pays about $25 per month for the same drugs and it is thanks to generic drug companies like Cipla and Ranbaxy, she points out.

And herein lies her concern. Ms Nwagwu was in Mumbai along with a group of international AIDS activists to meet pharmaceutical companies and express their concern on the impact that the product patent regime would have on AIDS drug prices.

Underlining the need to keep generic AIDS drugs outside the purview of any kind of monopolistic practices, she said, medicines supplied by Indian drug majors had been a lifeline not just for HIV/AIDS patients in India, but more so in African countries like Nigeria. “Patent laws should not be changed in such a way that health gets affected,” she added.

Mr Othman Mellouk of the Association for the Fight Against AIDS in Morocco, points out that treatment would become more expensive for AIDS patients who may have to shift to new AIDS drugs, when the existing ones fail.

“These combinations cost as much as 20 times more than the initial combinations.” “And the manufacture of drugs that are chemically similar to the new range of AIDS-drugs will be blocked by India’s patent law”, he adds.

Multinational companies (MNCs) will claim that they too have brought down the price of AIDS drugs. But they did so only because of competition from generic drugs.

Despite MNCs pricing their medicines differently in various markets, the experience has been that AIDS medicines are still not affordable, he said.

Voicing a common concern, Ms Marie de Cenvival of SIDACTION said that medicine prices would go up, if patent applications on new AIDS drugs have been filed with the Indian Government. Commenting on the patents filed by generic companies like Cipla on their fixed drug combination AIDS drugs, Ms Asia Russell of Health GAP recounted that Cipla top brass had said that the patents were done on a defensive, to prevent other companies patenting the same.

But on whether these patents would result in monopolistic practices by generic companies as well, she said, the proof would be in the pudding! A representative with a pharma company who participated in the meeting told Business Line that the activists’ concerns were not entirely misplaced.

Drug companies could work on non-infringing products that are similar to the new line of medicine, but that would depend on the view taken by the patent office.

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