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July 05, 2011

India: Manufacture of Generic AIDS Drugs Will Continue

by Joe DeCapua

India has pledged to continue to provide low-cost, generic AIDS drugs, despite trade negotiations with the European Union (EU). The announcement directly affects African HIV/AIDS treatment programs, which rely heavily on the drugs.

International trade rules have allowed India to manufacture the generics for public health emergencies, despite patent regulations.

“At one stage, there were some relatively restrictive clauses that were being proposed, which would impact on India’s ability to continue to have a significant manufacturing base in generic medicines,” said professor Charles Gilkes, UNAIDS country director in India. Gilkes, UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe and others met Wednesday with Indian government officials

UNAIDS estimates India produces more than 85 percent of the medicines used in programs funded by PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

“It’s higher, it may be over 90 percent for drugs for children with HIV, who are on treatment,” said Gilkes.

Rest assured

India’s commerce secretary, Anand Sharma, gave assurances that trade negotiations would not affect the manufacture of generic AIDS drugs.

Gilkes said, “He pointed out that the government of India through his department was very clear that these clauses were being resisted… and that they had now been taken out.”

The final working document on the trade deal had not been released when Gilkes spoke with VOA, but he said he didn’t believe the delay had anything to do with the generics issue.

Universal access

Last month, the U.N. High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS committed to providing universal access to treatment to 15 million people by 2015. Wednesday’s announcement directly affects that target date.

“To reach those targets and to maximize the prevention benefits of those medicines, you have to be able to guarantee for the future the continued ability of some countries to have high-volume, high-quality, highly effective drugs being produced,” he said.

The UNAIDS country director said India also manufactures the drugs in fixed dose combinations. “So you don’t have to take 10 or 20 pills a day. You take one or two or three pills a day,” he said.

UNAIDS said that “15 million people are eligible for antiretroviral treatment in low and middle income countries, and about 6.6 million have access to HIV treatment. Current treatment approaches are not sufficient to provide access to all who need it.”