Giving patents to foreign-made medicines will add to patients’ woes, they urge
Health activists staged a protest in front of the office of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Friday, demanding that the government should ensure that oral drugs to treat Hepatitis C are made available to patients. The demonstrators were later assured by the ministry officials that they would look into the matter and set up a committee for the purpose.
The currently available medicines are administered through injections. “I have already endured Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) treatment, with painful injections and side-effects,” said Umesh Sharma of Indian Drug Users Forum (IDUF).
Effective oral treatment is now available. New direct-acting antivirals (DAAs)—including sofosbuvir, approved by the USFDA in December 2013, and many others in late-stage development—are on the verge of entering the market in India but are likely to be expensive as they are patented. Activists say that the ministry should ensure that generic versions are available in India. “Now is the time to fight for affordable DAAs so that everyone who needs it has access to life-saving HCV treatment,” said Vikas Ahuja, President of Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+).
Earlier this week, DNP+ and Initiative for Medicines Access and Knowledge (I-MAK) had together filed a patent before the Delhi Patent office to prevent Gilead from gaining a patent for their medicine in India. “To get a patent under the law, you need to show that your drug is scientifically new. We believe that Gilead does not meet this lawful requirement,” said Tahir Amin, director of intellectual property at I-MAK.
“The Indian government is providing TB and HIV treatment to millions of patients. It has the same responsibility to treat HCV and save millions of people who are chronically infected with HCV in India,” said Loon Gangte of International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), South Asia.
According to estimates by World Health Organization, more than 12 million people in India may be chronically infected by the hepatitis virus. The international health agency also states that the complexities and costs associated with the present injectable treatment have acted as a deterrent for treatment providers and governments like India from investing in a Hepatitis C testing and treatment programme.
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