UNAIDS on Monday urged countries, including India, to opt for compulsory licensing under the Trips agreement to ensure people in need have access to cheap generic second-generation drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.
Compulsory licensing allows countries to manufacture or import cheaper generic (copycat) versions of patented life-saving drugs in a medical emergency.
India is the world's biggest manufacturer of cheap unpatented drugs in the world. "Governments cannot say they don't have money for the more expensive second-generation drugs and abandon people under free treatment under national programmes. Governments have the responsibility to ensure care and if needed, go for compulsory licensing to import or manufacture patented drugs. Other countries should follow the Thailand example," says JVR Prasada Rao, Director, Regional Support Team, UNAIDS.
India provides free first-generation drugs to 82,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. "India is one of the world's largest producers of second-generation anti-retrovirals used to treat HIV/AIDS and yet it does not provide it under its national programme," said Prasada Rao, who was a secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
India has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific region. Of the 5.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the region, roughly half -- 2.47 million -- live in India. Yet India accounts for about a third of the people getting AIDS medicines under the government programme -- India accounts for 82,000 of the 235,000 people who get AIDS drugs under public health programmes in the region.
"Countries in the region would support Thailand that defied big pharma to save lives. I have been HIV-positive for 16 years, and if it wasn't for medicines, I would have died years ago," says Sheeba, regional coordinator, Asia Pacific Network of Positive People.