MSF urges India to protect affordable medicines for millions

Organisation highlights access campaign at Obama-Modi meeting in New York

When US President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Modi met in New York recently, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned that US pressure on India to change its intellectual property policies could result in millions of people around the world losing their lifeline of affordable medicines.

MSF relies on affordable generic medicines produced in India to do its medical work in more than 60 countries, and therefore urged Modi to stand strong and protect India's role as the 'pharmacy of the developing world'.

‘We need affordable medicines from India to do our humanitarian work, so we are not about to let the pharmacy of the developing world be shut down,’ said Dr Manica Balasegaram, Executive Director of MSF's Access Campaign. ‘The health of millions of people around the world will be affected by the decisions that Prime Minister Modi makes, so we are urging him not to cave in to pressure from the US to change the country's policies to favour Big Pharma interests.’

India's law sets a higher bar for patents than other countries, filtering out applications that cover simple changes to existing pharmaceutical products. This has allowed robust generic competition to continue that has, for example, resulted in the price of a basic HIV treatment combination dropping by 99% during the course of a decade, from more than US$10,000 to around $100.

The US government, backed strongly by its pharmaceutical lobby, is not only pressuring India to dilute its patentability standards but has been persistently pushing India to implement a drug regulatory system that essentially links the registration of medicines to their patent status (patent linkage), and the Indian Ministry of Health appears to be seriously considering such changes.

‘The multinational pharmaceutical industry is pushing hard to stamp out the competition from India,’ said Leena Menghaney, South Asia Manager of MSF's Access Campaign. ‘India must not accept the US line that intellectual property, linked to high drug prices, is the only way to bring in investment; it's simply not the case.

‘We urge Prime Minister Modi not to accept US demands and standards on intellectual property. Millions of lives are at stake.’