Modi’s visit re-kindles debate on generic drugs

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Kenyans that depend on subsidised generic drugs for malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV may start pocketing more if India starts implementing the its proposed patent laws.

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a tour of the country, French charity group Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), has renewed pressure on the government of India to offer  affordable drug prices for developing countries, despite pressure from Western countries change laws governing medical innovations.

“We urge Prime Minister Modi to uphold the role of providing more affordable versions of the new medicines to Kenya and other developing countries and to reject all efforts to weaken or eliminate critically important public health safeguards from its law,” Ms Christa Cepuch, the official in charge of MSF Access Campaign said.

The Indian Prime minister is making his maiden visit to Kenya. This is the first time in 35 years that an Indian PM is visiting Kenya.

During the visit, the premier is expected to make follow up on pledges made last October during the India-Africa Summit, among them setting up of an oncology hospital in Kenya.

The hospital is set to be built under the $100 million India-Africa Fund.

But the visit comes at a moment when India is under pressure to make amendments on its intellectual property laws to accommodate the demands of trade agreements it is negotiating with the West.

The patent laws have been proposed by drug manufacturers  in particular who argue that India’s policy of health safeguards undermines innovations in medical field.

“Medicines from India have allowed the Kenyan government, MSF, and other treatment providers to dramatically scale up HIV treatment in Kenya from three per cent of people with HIV on treatment in 2003 to 60 per cent by end of 2015,” Ms Cepuch said, arguing that these gains will be drained if India changes its law on innovations.

Currently India does not recognise patent laws and patent term extensions. In the medical field, it means those who make drugs cannot get a new patent for changing the form of a new drug, for example by changing it from powder to syrup or adding a new ingredient.

India imports nearly all of the active ingredients in all the generic drugs. But the country has a policy to protect public health interests by declining patent term extensions to international firms.

This has enabled Indian drug manufacturers to make generic types of expensive drugs for diseases like HIV, TB, cancer, hepatitis and asthma even when they are still patented in Western countries.

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