India reaffirms commitment to producing affordable AIDS medication

United Nations, June 9 (IANS) India, which is facing intense Western pressure to stop making generic AIDS drugs, has reaffirmed its determination to continue providing affordable medicines to everyone with HIV.

“India is committed to using all flexibilities allowed under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the World Trade Organization to ensure the availability of affordable and quality medicine to all people living with HIV,” Deputy Permanent Representative Bhagwant S. Bishnoi told a UN General Assembly session on Monday on the future of AIDS response.

India is the largest producer of generic HIV drugs and has made them more affordable. The UN and other organisations estimate that more than 80 percent of the medicines, known as anti-retroviral therapy (ART), in Africa come from India.

TRIPS flexibilities, which allow nations to grant exemptions from patent regulations for manufacturing vital medications, “are critical for the provision of public health to millions across the developing world”, Bishnoi said.

He regretted that they “are being questioned in some quarters”, adding, “It would be most callous if we were to allow narrow considerations of commerce to deny the most basic and the most fundamental human right — the right to life”.

The European Union and the US have been demanding that India curtail manufacture of generic ART medications.

In the stalled negotiations between the EU and India, Brussels has been demanding stringent restrictions on making generics.

India’s contribution to making available life-saving AIDS medications affordable has been hailed by UN bodies and international organisations like Doctors Without Borders. They have rallied support for India continuing to make generic drugs.

Doctors Without Borders has estimated that the availability of generic medications have brought down the cost of a year’s treatment from $10,000 to under $80.

In a report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon underscored the role of pharmaceuticals in saving lives: “Since 1995, ART has averted 7.6 million deaths globally.”

“The number of people living with HIV who are now accessing life-saving ART has increased significantly,” his report said.

“A total of 13.6 million people were receiving such therapy globally at the end of June 2014, setting the world on track for meeting the target of 15 million by the end of 2015.”

In response, Bishnoi said: “While this is a matter of some satisfaction, we also need to reach the remaining 22 million people infected with HIV. The challenge before us is not of unavailability of medical treatment, but of accessibility arising from its high cost in many developing countries.”

Ban’s report included some good news: HIV infections and deaths have been declining significantly. Between 2001 and 2013, new HIV infections came down by 38 percent and between 2005 and 2013, AIDS-related deaths declined by 35 percent.

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