Oxfam calls on EU not to shut down ‘pharmacy of the developing world’

Published: 9th February 2012

On the eve of a high-level summit between the leaders of India and the European Union in Delhi, Oxfam is calling on the EU not to pressure India into agreeing new trade rules that could deny hundreds of millions of people access to affordable medicines.

The negotiations, which have been on-going for four years, are a means for the two economies to agree on a trade pact and forge a new commercial relationship. The EU, backed by multinational pharmaceutical companies, are trying to impose new intellectual property and investment (IP) rules in India, which would result in drastically higher medicine prices for the poorest people across the globe.

Oxfam policy advisor, Rohit Malpani, said. “The summit on Friday will be closely watched to see whether the EU and India will negotiate a trade agreement which puts people’s lives before the commercial interests of multinational drug companies.

“At a time of austerity and declining aid budgets, especially for health, efforts to increase medicine prices for the world’s poor would be a double blow and have a devastating impact on the achievement of health-related Millennium Development Goals.” 

India plays a critical role in the global medicines market, producing over two-thirds of all generic medicines; affordable versions of drugs licensed by multinational companies, which are largely sold to poor and middle income countries. Currently, over 80 per cent of all HIV and AIDS medicines are manufactured by generic companies in India, but if new trade rules are agreed the price of life-saving treatment would increase drastically.*

Oxfam India CEO, Nisha Agrawal, said: “The Indian Government – until now – has repeatedly rejected the EU demands to introduce any of the additional intellectual property rules under the free trade agreement. We strongly support that stance. Given the background of ongoing policy level discussions on universal, affordable and free access to health care in India, to introduce additional intellectual property rules as a condition of the free trade agreement would be contradictory, since it would escalate the cost of medicines in India and also across the developing world.”

Malpani added: “If the EU succeeds in imposing strict IP rules upon the Indian Government, the massive hike in medicine prices could undermine European leadership to provide international aid for global health. Worryingly it could also debilitate donor programmes that provide access to treatment around the world.”

The call is also being backed in the UK by the Elton John Aids foundation, whose founder, singer and long time AIDS activist Sir Elton John, said:

“Europe is using all its wealth and power to force India into accepting tight restrictions on its ability to produce affordable medicines. This is an attack on the health of the world’s poor motivated by the aggressive demands of profit-hungry multinational pharmaceutical companies. Millions of people with HIV rely on generic manufacturers in India for their lifesaving medicines. We cannot allow Europe’s greed to triumph over the needs of HIV patients around the world.”

Read more

Watch the video: Free medicines in Rajasthan, India

Watch the video: The reality of healthcare in developing countries

Millennium Development Goals

At a time of declining aid budgets, efforts to increase medicine prices for the world’s poor would have a devastating impact on the achievement of health-related Millennium Development Goals.
Rohit Malpani
Oxfam Policy Advisor

Notes to editors

Download the Oxfam media briefing for the EU-India Summit, Affordable Medicines under Threat

*The cost of medicines drops 90-99 percent with generic competition. Delays in introducing generics will result in medicine prices remaining patented and too expensive - which will increase the cost of health care for governments and households.

Contact information

Angela Corbalan, EU media officer, Oxfam
+ 32 473 56 22 60

Sarah Dransfield, Press Officer, Oxfam GB
+ 44 (0)1865 472269
+ 44 (0)7767 085636

Follow the Oxfam EU Advocacy Office on @OxfamEU