For Immediate Release: September 30, 2014
Contact: Matthew Kavanagh, +1 202-486-2488, [email protected]
AIDS & Health Activists Blast American Pharma Companies and Politicians for Attempts to Undermine India, the “Pharmacy of the Developing World,” Call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Stand Strong Against US Pressure to Change its Pro-Public Health Patent Laws
While India supplies the world with affordable medicines, pharmaceutical industry manipulation of weak U.S. patent law keeps American drug prices high. India must not make the same mistake.
(Washington, D.C.) AIDS and health activists today harshly criticized attempts by major U.S. pharmaceutical companies and American politicians to pressure and manipulate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who today meets with members of the US-India Business Council in Washington, D.C. Activists warned that following American-led policy proscriptions could severely damage the Indian economy and health system, as well as restricting access to affordable medicines for patients around the world. They called on Prime Minister Modi to stand strong against persistent and unwarranted US pressure to change the country’s pro-public health patent laws.
Indian generic drug manufacturers currently provide India, and much of the world, with high-quality affordable medicines: 90% of HIV patients in low- and middle-income countries rely on Indian generics for their treatment, and 40% of American generic drugs are made by Indian producers. “Indian generics have been essential to expanding access to medicine around the world,” said Asia Russell, Health GAP’s Director of International Policy. “I am based in Uganda, where expanded access to Indian generics has had a transformative impact on the HIV epidemic. Around the world, we’ll rely on Indian generics again for treatment of diseases such as hepatitis C, given that Indian firms can make generic versions of new treatments 1,000 times cheaper than what multinational pharmaceutical companies charge in first world markets.”
Threatened by free trade of high-quality and affordable medicines, US-based pharmaceutical companies and politicians friendly with the industry are using prominently placed op-eds, large advertisements on Washington, D.C. buses, and letters to President Obama to spread false information—claiming India’s rules are not legal or discourage innovation. The companies have been threatening to withhold investment if India does not adopt weaker patent laws that would extend pharmaceutical monopolies and stymie the country’s generic industry. The bullying has been far-reaching. In anticipation of the prime minister's visit, Senator Robert Menendez (R-NJ) said, "we need to see real reforms on [intellectual property], which significantly impacts the ability of US companies to do business in an important market." The US Trade Representative listed India on its “priority watch list” in this year’s Special 301 Watch List, which is annually published to shame countries with intellectual property legislation that is not to American businesses and politicians’ liking. As a result, India may face US trade sanctions. Members of Congress have also demanded an investigation into what they call India's "IP protectionism." This is despite India’s intellectual property laws being fully in line with international standards, as outlined in World Trade Organization agreements.
“India fully complies with international law while also making it possible for billions of people in India and around the world to access life-saving affordable drugs,” said Matthew Kavanagh, Health GAP’s Senior Policy Analyst. “Giving U.S. pharmaceutical companies longer monopolies would help their bottom line—but at the cost of the Indian economy and the lives of millions of people.”
India’s pharmaceutical industry has been able to flourish because of the country’s pro-public health patent laws, in which patents are only granted on new medicines or for significant changes on old medicines. The U.S., in contrast, regularly gives out patents on slightly tweaked versions of old medicines that do not provide enhanced therapeutic benefit, extending monopoly protection and keeping prices high.
“Whereas the U.S. regularly gives patents on frivolous and small changes to old medicines, keeping prices high, India has decided to prioritize public health over pharmaceutical profits,” said Brook Baker, law professor at Northeastern University and Health GAP analyst. “U.S. companies are threatening not to invest in India, saying only stronger intellectual property will drive foreign direct investment and more innovation. But studies show this simply is not true—middle income countries with extremely high IP rules see no benefit in investment or research, but they do see far higher medical costs that undermine their public health systems.
“Rather than shaming India, the US should learn from the country’s use of intellectual property policy to promote true innovation and equitable access to medicine,” Baker said.
Already Modi’s administration has shown signs that it may bend to pressure from US businesses and politicians, who threaten to restrict foreign investment in India’s booming economy if intellectual property laws don’t change. The country's Minister of Commerce and Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman, has initiated a review of India’s IP policy, saying that she wanted the patent system to become "more robust.”
“Health activists around the world are in solidarity with Prime Minister Modi,” Kavanagh said. “We’re calling on the Indian government not to bend to U.S. pressure. Patients around the world are relying on it.”