During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to South Africa, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urges the Indian government to safeguard its role in supplying affordable, generic medicines to millions of people in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
South Africa imports the highest volume of its medicines from India – including life-saving antiretrovirals for HIV, and treatments for a wide range of other diseases. Today, India faces immense pressure from the United States and its multinational pharmaceutical corporations lobby to roll back its pro-public health patent rules that put people above corporate profits.
If India caves in to this pressure, the results could be devastating for South Africans, millions of people across Africa and other developing countries, and it risks unleashing monopolistic practices that price medicines beyond reach.
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“We urge Prime Minister Modi to defend India’s lifeline to South Africa and developing countries through affordable versions of new medicines. India should reject efforts that undermine, weaken or eliminate critically-important public health safeguards from its laws,” says Claire Waterhouse, MSF Access Campaign Advocacy Officer in Southern Africa. “Medicines from India have enabled MSF, government and other treatment providers to dramatically scale up HIV treatment access in South Africa. India’s global pharmacy also has an important role to play in providing affordable prices for newer medicines for TB, hepatitis and other devastating diseases.”
A vital lifeline
South Africa is currently reforming its own patent laws to better balance private commercial interests with public health priorities, and is modelling some of its policies on India’s progressive laws. As in India, pharmaceutical corporations have mounted numerous attacks to counter this progress, including the infamous "Pharmagate" plot, wherein over 20 multinational drug corporations aimed to fund a misleading campaign to undermine and substantially delay South African intellectual property law reform.
“Our patients’ lives depend on the Indian and the South African governments holding the line against drug corporations who seek to expand their profits at the expense of people’s health,” explains Dr Amir Shroufi, MSF medical coordinator in South Africa. “Medicines ‘made in India’ are a vital lifeline for MSF’s medical humanitarian operations and millions of people in developing countries.”
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At the third India-Africa Summit held in New Delhi last October, India and the member states of the African Union agreed to cooperate on ensuring access to affordable medicines, and to foster innovation that addresses public health needs of developing countries. This commitment must be taken forward and matched with actions to protect the health of millions of South Africans.
“Fifteen years ago, South Africa stood up against pressure from 39 drug corporations to block access to more affordable HIV medicines at a time when the epidemic was spiralling out of control in the country,” Waterhouse says. “We hope to see strong resolve from Prime Minister Modi today against corporate pressure and in support of millions of people’s access to their medicines.”
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