The National, Mar 12, 2012
NEW DELHI // “I used to know the undertaker’s phone number off by heart,” says Loon Gangte, remembering the dark days of the 1990s when he worked in a care home for HIV-Aids patients in Delhi.
Mr Gangte, a wiry 45-year-old, runs Delhi Network of Positive People, a support group for people with HIV.
He knows what it feels like to be given a death sentence.
“I was diagnosed in 1997. In those days, the only thing the doctor could say was ‘Think positive and pray to God’,” he says.
Medicines to control HIV then cost more than US$10,000 (Dh.36,700) a year. In India, where per capita income is still about US$760 (Dh.2,800) a year, there were few customers. That changed in 2000 when the first generic drugs for HIV began to appear. Mr Gangte now pays about $230 (Dh840) a year for treatment. “It’s thanks to those drugs that I’m alive today, and my wife and baby boy are negative,” he says.
India is a major source of generic drugs for developing countries, treating everything from tuberculosis to cancer. But a landmark court case threatens to choke off that vital supply.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis is demanding the right to patent a cancer medicine called Glivec. If they win, they would have a 20-year monopoly and India could no longer produce its generic equivalent at a tenth of Novartis’s US$2,600 (Dh9,500) price. Health workers fear other big drugs companies would follow suit.
“If they win, it will open the floodgates for other companies to seek patents on all kinds of existing medicines,” said Leena Menghaney, a Delhi-based access campaigner with Medecins Sans Frontieres.