The pharmaceutical industry appears to be looking out for No. 1 in the case of India vs. HIV / AIDS.
Since 2000, the southeastern-Asia country has become a leader in lowering the cost of treatment for patients with the deadly disease. That year, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders started a series of treatment missions in third-world nations including Cameroon and Thailand, as well as South Africa. At the time, the cost of treating an adult through a regimen of anti-retroviral drugs stood at a ridiculous $10,000 per year.
Today, the cost of treatment stands at $140 per year – or about 40 cents per day.
“Two pills: magical, astonishing pills, they cost 40 cents,” U2 frontman and longtime AIDS activist Bono said in a statement released Dec. 1 in recognition of World AIDS Day. “Why are they magic? Because they enable a mother with HIV / AIDS to stay alive and to stop the transmission of that virus to her baby. These two pills.”
Thanks to India’s enlightened decision to exclude patents on life-saving medication, including the anti-retrovirals that quell AIDS, a competitive, healthy and natural marketing environment is keeping prices low for consumers. But draconian drug companies oppose India’s laws on patents and reportedly have been lobbying Congress to change them.
“It’s an issue of survival for us and an issue of survival for our patients,” Judit Ruis, a campaign adviser for Doctors Without Borders, told Truthout.
Ruis said most of the 11 million men and women with HIV / AIDS who live in developing countries take low-cost generics manufactured in India, which has emerged as the “pharmacy of the developing world.”
“These generics have been a game changer in terms of being able to provide medical care in developing countries,” he said.
Doctors Without Borders has requested U.S. leaders to not fall prey to the lobbying efforts by “Big Pharma” and instead preserve India’s patent laws. In testimony to the International Trade Commission, Rohit Malpan, also a campaign adviser for the organization, said such “attacks” have a negative impact on trading and fly in the face of the Indian government.
“Most importantly, the measures India has implemented to safeguard public health are of critical importance to protect the health of millions of people across the world,” Malpan said. “India has been nicknamed the ‘pharmacy to the developing world’ in recognition of this fact. Losing this ‘pharmacy’ would be devastating for patients and for treatment providers.”
According to PhRMA, the drug makers’ U.S. lobbying group, intellectual property is an essential element of innovation.
“Biopharmaceutical intellectual property (IP) protections, such as patents and data protection, provide the incentives that spur research and development,” reads an article on PhRMA’s Web site. “They help ensure that the innovative biopharmaceutical companies that have invested in life-saving medicines have an opportunity to justify their investments.”
Patents also enable drug makers to secure necessary funds for future research and development, according to the article, which concludes, “Without intellectual property rights, competitors could simply copy biopharmaceutical innovations as soon as they were proven safe and effective, offering their own versions without investing the time and money to develop the medicines.”