quinta-feira, março 24, 2005

Índia, Brasil e África do Sul: dignos do Conselho de Segurança das Nações Unidas?

India: Is the World’s Leader in the production of anti-HIV drugs about to resign?

India, Brazil South Africa—Three candidates vying for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Three countries governed by the Left. Three countries who, under pressure from the US and multinational pharmaceutical companies, do not commit themselves to produce cheap effective medicines. Even though millions of lives of people with AIDS are at stake.

On the 10th of January, 2000 at the UN Security Council’s Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS), which was dedicated to AIDS in Africa; Kofi Annan asked his members to make the fight against AIDS internally “an immediate priority.” Since the UNGASS in 2001 the fight against AIDS has been one of the UN Security Council’s main responsibilities. The creation of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria under Koffi Annan is one of the most well-known outcomes: Therefore the reforms which are about to pass will have a major impact in the fight against AIDS internationally. In particular, new, permanent representatives on the security council will have to demonstrate the relevance of their positions on AIDS policies especially on the international level.

They will have to show that they deserve to represent the interests of the poorer countries of the world when, for once these countries have a chance at making their needs heard at the highest international level. Among the candidates to have permanent seats three states claim to play an important role inb the worldwide fight against the epidemic: Brazil, South Africa and India. But how real is their involvement in the fight against AIDS and what are they doing to provide access to treatment in countries with limited resources?

Brazil, the long-cited example of a country who guaranteed universal access to treatment by producing copies of first generation of anti-retrovirals for their internal market is having a hard time transferring this model to other countries. The Brazilian government’s pharmaceutical industry doesn’t dare copy its most recent molecules and above all shies away from exporting its generics. The transfer of technology towards poorer countries languishes.

South Africa is finally catching up with the enormous delay in launching a government-sponsored ARV program: nourished by American companies connected to President Bush’s PEPFAR program, Pretoria buys almost exclusively brand-name drugs or copies produced by Aspen, a South African company heavily influenced by international pharmaceutical giants. These “real-fake” copies which had to meet USFDA approval, in fact cost much more than the Indian copies.

With these drug policies South Africa cuts the grass under the feet of their Indian competitors. It is true that since the end of the 90s Indian pharmaceutical companies like Cipla or Ranbaxy have been able to penetrate the poorer countries’ markets and have brought down prices of anti-HIV drugs. The Indian industry continues to copy the most recent medicines such as protease inhibitors and has even made innovations such as combining three of the most frequently prescribed molecules into one pill in a first line triple therapy. But now the Indian government has taken a step backwards. The Indian Parliament just voted into legislation a law which limits the copying of medicines created after 1995.

Despite international pressure not to do so the law that was voted today by Parliament which will be ratified tomorrow by the Senate includes amendments which will negatively affect world health: Two examples: “compulsory license” which makes it possible for a government to authorize copying a patented drug is still extremely complicated and there are not rules in place to control royalties which must be paid to the patent holder, which could lead to interminable lawsuits. In addition, those who depend on cheap medicines will have to wait three years before a generic producer can submit a request to legally copy these medicines, as an exception. Patients in rich countries will have immediate access to these drugs once they are proven effective, and patients in poor countries will have to wait years.

The Indian government seems determined to adopt a policy towards patents that is far more restrictive than what the World Trade Organization requires. It must be noted that President Bush, via the PEPFAR initiative, recently promised India a substantial grant. The Indian Parliament, dominated by the Congressional Party, inheritors of the non-aligned Nehru movement, can still make New Delhi change its mind-- and involve India in an enthusiastic and independent defence of the world’s poorest populations’ access to essential medicines not to mention the future of the UN security council.

Marie de Cenival

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