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February 26, 2005

New Indian drug patent rule hurts poor AIDS patients: US experts

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US law and AIDS experts urged the Indian parliament to reject an executive order that will curb India's ability to sell cheap copies of the newest drugs for the world's poorest patients.

The Indian parliament will debate the new December 26 order, which changed its laws to put India in line with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on intellectual property rights.

Until its new rule, the South Asian giant had not recognized international drug patents, thereby leaving its pharmaceutical industry with a half-million-strong workforce free to copy foreign products.

India is the world's third-biggest producer and prime exporter of generic drugs, which are cheaper than drugs sold under patent.

The experts said the Indian parliament should either amend the order or let it die when it expires after six months in order to take time to revise it and improve it.

"Hundreds of millions of lives are at stake," said Brook Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and a policy adviser to the Health Global Access Project, an activist organization seeking worldwide access to HIV/AIDS treatment.

"People need access to the newest medicine," Baker said. "This ordinance cannot and should not stand."

The new ordinance could hurt public health programs in Africa, a continent plagued by AIDS cases, experts said.

"This is really about our ability to get these life-saving medicines in the mouths of people that urgently need them," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of US-based Global AIDS Alliance.

African and Indian activists, along with AIDS organizations, will hold a rally Saturday in front of India's embassy in Washington to show solidarity with similar protests to be held in India.

February 26, 2005 in World News | Permalink

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