Hands Off Our Medicines

Don't shut down the pharmacy of the developing world!

MSF relies heavily on Indian generic medicines to carry out its medical work in almost 70 countries. But the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’ is under attack from the US, the EU, Japan and others who are protecting multi-national pharmaceutical profits over lives.

More than 80 per cent of the medicines MSF uses to treat HIV are affordable generic medicines from India, and 96 per cent of the HIV medicines used by major donor-funded programmes are generic medicines; the vast majority of these are from India.

Generic competition, primarily in India, has helped bring prices for the standard HIV drug cocktail down by 99 per cent, from more than US$10,000 in 2000, to roughly US$100 today, enabling global treatment scale-up to over 14 million people.

India was able to freely produce these medicines because it didn’t grant medicine patents until 2005, when it was obligated to start doing so under international trade rules. When India amended its patent law, it decided to put people’s lives above pharmaceutical profits by including public health safeguards, such as strict standards on what deserves a patent, and the use of compulsory licences. While India does grant patents, it is trying to strike a balance between providing intellectual property protection on innovative medicines and having the flexibility to protect the constitutional right to life.

But India’s patent law has long been a target of the multi-national pharmaceutical industry; the industry has been working hard to stamp out generic competition from India, pushing for changes in India’s drug registration system and amendments to its patent law so that patent monopolies are more easily handed out. After seven years of legal wrangling, the Novartis case, over a patent that was rejected for not meeting India’s patentability criteria, was settled in April 2013 and was the highest-profile attack on India’s patent law. Despite the Swiss company losing in the Supreme Court, the attempts to change India’s laws continue.

India is currently facing pressure to change its intellectual property (IP) policies to offer more monopoly protections to multi-national pharmaceutical companies at the expense of public health safeguards. If the Indian Government caves to this pressure, it could severely restrict access to affordable medicines in the future, and could be disastrous for millions of people around the world and for treatment providers like MSF, who rely on affordable Indian generic medicines. Here’s an overview of the pressure India is up against:

What you can do:

  • Learn more and show your support at handsoff.msf.org

  • HASHTAG: #HandsOffOurMeds