India asks Africa to keep doors open to generic drug imports

Addis Ababa, May 10 (IANS) India has urged African countries not to put barriers on the production and import of generic drugs to the continent, especially in the current economic slowdown, which could adversely affect the purchasing power of patients.
"For the sake of their own people, Africa should not allow the ratification of banning generic medicine products," Rajeev Kher, joint secretary in India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told IANS on the sidelines of a four-day conference of African ministers for health here, that ended May 8. 
He said that the Indian delegation was here to sensitise the African health ministers about generic drugs that are equally effective and the need not to pass anti-generic drugs laws. 
The Indian pharmaceutical industry is among the world's largest and most developed in terms of production and consumption. 
The official said Kenya had already ratified the anti-generic drug law that will force the people of Kenya to buy drugs that are 10 times as expensive, but not more effective. 
Giving an example of the difference in prices, Kher said that if an anti-cancer drug manufactured by western pharma companies cost about Rs.140,000 ($2,848), it would cost just Rs.5,000 ($102) in its generic form. 
Kher was referring to Kenya's anti-counterfeit law passed last month, according to which generic drugs exported from any country, which is patented anywhere else in the world, can be classified as counterfeit - if there is objection raised by the patent holder. 
The Indian commerce ministry official said that other African countries like Uganda and Zambia are being pressurised by the big multinational pharmaceutical companies to adopt similar legislation to impede exports of generic drugs
According to the Indian delegation, almost 50 percent of the medicines in the African market are generic. 
The issue of generic drugs touches the heart of the HIV/AID programme, which has ravaged several African nations. 
An estimated 33 million people globally are infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS - out of which 25 million live in Africa and other developing countries. Out of these 25 million patients, over three million regularly use Indian manufactured anti-retrovirals. 
Most infected Africans have no access to treatment, though some countries are running successful HIV/AIDS programmes. About three million people in African countries with HIV/AIDS are on anti-retroviral drugs. 
But if there are restrictions on the use of generic drugs, the affected patients will not be able to use medicines, whose prices will shoot up to over $2,000. 
Currently, South Africa is the only African country that makes its own HIV/AIDS drugs. 
The African health ministers' meeting, organised by the African Union, tackled issues like Africa's preparedness to face swine flu, millennium development goals, financing of the health sector in Africa and child and maternal mortality.

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