During his live radio address to the nation last Sunday Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with pride about how India was on the verge of hosting 54 African heads of states for the first time in its history. Although the third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi was originally set as a platform to strengthen diplomatic and security ties between India and the African continent, a separate agenda has emerged altogether. The African leaders, invoking this spirit, plan to bring into discussion India’s critical role in the export of cheap generic drugs. Africans leaders will look to highlight their need for affordable generic medicines to combat diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C, among others. Citizens of various African countries have suffered at the hands of these diseases, and India’s generic medicine industry has done more for developing world health outcomes than any Western aid agency. And American big pharma lobbyists are laying siege to it. The heads of 54 states will have to convince Prime Minister Modi not to give in to pressure from the US government and other western pharmaceutical multinationals. It is abundantly clear that such forces seek to stop India from exporting cheap medicines to Africa. As the South African Health Minister said, “my message to India is that we truly rely on them and if they reverse their position now they will end up killing a lot of people in Africa, no question about it.”
Kenya’s Ambassador to India Florence Imicha Weche spoke to the media stating these concerns adding that India’s support in these matters, especially for drugs against AIDS, is of extreme importance to their country. Weche further added that the priority is to maintain India’s current status as the Pharmacy of the Third World. Under a Voluntary Licensing Scheme (VLs), the US pharmaceutical lobby wants India to limit the affordable generics category only to Indian consumers. In other words, they seem to be against having these drugs cheaply available to other third world patients. Earlier during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India, Prime Minister Modi addressed the media, assuring that he would address all American concerns related to Intellectual Property rights especially in the pharmaceutical sector. As a result, the Government of India had set up a committee to examine IPR related guidelines. However, not one of India’s major generic companies has applied for a compulsory license – settling instead for restrictive VLs. Instead, lured by the promise of higher profits, certain Indian companies are already striking deals with US pharmaceutical giants, with the Government of India playing the role of a benign observer. The ultimate tragedy is that the developing world has widely hailed India’s pro-public health intellectual property policy. It is India’s pro-public health policy that saw a 99 percent fall in the price of HIV drugs from $10,000 per person per year in 2000 to $100 per year today. Moreover, other diseases like hepatitis C and malaria, which afflict millions of people in Africa, also need affordable generic medicines exported from India. As a nation, India has a responsibility to millions of fellow citizens in Africa.
India has had a successful past as far as the generic medicine industry is concerned with the rise of Cipla as early as 2001 and simultaneous growth that marks a self-sufficient medicine industry in the country today. The rest of the developing world also treat this achievement as an example of growth. They expect India to feel for their needs and stand in support. The only party that seems to have suffered from India’s existing position are the American pharma majors, whose profits have somewhat declined. Under such circumstances, it would be interesting to find out how Modi plans to execute his actions.