Disappointment on World AIDS Day for People Living with HIV

Friday, December 2, 2011 - 11:12

World AIDS DAY 2011 has turned out to be a black day for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) because of International political decisions. There are innumerable threats to the lives of PLHIV from various sources.

The most serious threat comes in the form of cancellation of Global Fund Round 11, quoting financial difficulties made at a two day GFATM Board meeting in Accra, Ghana, on 21-22 November (GFATM stands for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria): The cause- donors did not keep their word on  pledges which they made to the GF. This World AIDS Day, 2011, ActionAid joins hands with other civil society organizations, AIDS activists and People Living with and Affected by HIV to express our grave concern and disappointment at this decision. Unless money is made available and accessible to countries and communities immediately, it will be extremely difficult to reach the UNAIDS goal of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero deaths.

Lives of millions of people living with HIV is under threat as GFATM takes this decision not to support new programmes of Malaria, TB and HIV for the next 3 years.

Another threat comes from the Swiss Pharma Giant Novartis: India is known as the pharmacy of the world as it supplies medicines at a cheaper cost to developing countries across the globe. More than 90% of drugs used to treat children with AIDS in Africa come from Indian generic manufacturers. Novartis, is seeking patent protection for its leukaemia drug Gleevec, for which patent has expired in India. If Novartis wins the case, patents would be granted in India as broadly as they are in wealthy countries. This means, India would no longer be able to supply much of the developing world with quality affordable drugs during the patent terms of at least 20 years. Generic drug companies produce and sell Gleevec to chronic myeloid leukemia patients for about Rs.8,000 (USD 160) per month, while Novartis sells the drug for about Rs.1.2 lakh(2400USD) per month. The significance of the case is that many of the successful legal oppositions to patent applications on key HIV drugs to date have been based on section 3(d) of India’s patent law. This provision, which does not accept new forms of old products, has played a key role in continuing the generic production of many key antiretrovirals (ARVs). This is one case which this Pharma company should not win as it is not only challenging patent rights but human rights of millions of poor people across the globe.

Pharma company should not win as it is not only challenging patent rights but human rights of millions of poor people across the globe.

Threat from EU is live going on for one year on the EU –India FTA: One of the most damaging provisions in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is the grant of data exclusivity, something that the Indian Patent Law does not allow at present as Parliament did not think this would work in the interest of the Indian public's need for affordable medicines. Data exclusivity would mean that clinical trial data filed by one company cannot be relied upon by any other company. Each company will have to produce its own clinical trial data, which would be a waste of resources as different companies subject people to repeat clinical and pre-clinical trials to prove the efficacy of the same drug. Moreover, data submitted by a company will be protected for five to ten years preventing the registration of equally effective generic medicines during that time. The EU has also demanded stronger implementation of intellectual property protection norms that might affect the country’s generic drugs industry.

The most recent threat is the Patent Pool: On 12th July the Medicines Patent Pool Foundation (MPPF), a Swiss foundation, and UNITAID (an international drug purchasing facility to provide medicines to the poor for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis) announced a voluntary license agreement between MPPF and the US based pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences for the production of fewer medicines for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. The MPPF-Gilead agreement was announced in London. On the same day, in India, Gilead made a public announcement extending its partnership with four Indian generic pharmaceutical firms—Ranbaxy, Hetero, Matrix and Strides Arcolab—to produce and market two pipeline HIV drugs and a combination product known as the “Quad”. These separate agreements with the four Indian companies segmented the market for the drugs in the pipeline, and completely undermined the MPPF-Gilead agreement. Additionally, these side licenses require the Indian generic companies to pay royalties of between 10 and 15 percent . Major defects in Gilead’s licenses include their geographical exclusions of many low- and middle-income countries in North Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the bizarre provisions restricting licenses to Indian generics only and requiring that all licenses source Active Pharmaceutical ingredients only from Gilead or from licensed Indian suppliers. 

Our question is where is corporate accountability by giants like Gilead?

The other key issues facing PLHIV and key populations include criminalisation and the increasing discrimination they face without any legal protection from Nation States.

So, lets keep the demand for:

  • generic drugs, for access to drugs for all (Universal) and for creating awareness on the threat to generic drug production by multinational pharmaceuticals and the EU;
  • G8 Countries to meet their pledging commitments to GFATM, like ActionAid Italy constantly does;
  • decriminalisation of vulnerable populations and access to legislative protection by vulnerable groups;
  • continuing HIV programming with women, children, youth and Sexuality Minorities as the epidemic has not gone away. Roughly 34.5m people are living with HIV yet less than half of the estimated know their status;
  • national resourcing and integration of HIV response with general health responses around SRHR and other poverty induced diseases.