Indian production of cheap generic drugs could be banned

To ensure India meets World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on the production of drugs, the Indian Parliament has approved legislation by the parliament's lower house, to ban domestic firms from manufacturing low-cost generic copies of patented drugs.

The new legislation, which will replace the current patent law, which has allowed drug makers to copy patented drugs as long as they use a different manufacturing process, still has to be sanctioned by the upper chamber before it becomes law.

The strong drug manufacturing industry which has developed over 30 years in India, has been fostered by the present liberal approach and according to campaigners millions of people around the world will be deprived access to cheap life-saving medicines as a result of the new legislation.

The Indian government believes that patent recognition is an essential pre-condition for India's drug industry to further its own drug research and development and attract foreign partners. But health activists are urging the government to reconsider as millions of Aids patients would suffer from the withdrawal of affordable medication.

Ellen't Hoen, of the relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, says fifty percent of people with Aids in the developing world depend on generic drugs from India and the new patent law will cut the lifeline to other countries.

The Patent (Amendment) Bill was passed by the 545-member lower house after a walk out by members of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who contend the legislation is a "sell-out" to global drug firms which will trigger a massive increase in the price of patented drugs. BJP leader V.K. Malhotra says the responsibility for the consequences of the bill and the hardships that will heap upon the people will be on the government. The Congress party-led coalition government pledged safeguards to prevent a hike in prices of crucial pharmaceutical products in India after Speaker Somnath Chatterjee called for a vote on the matter. The minister for commerce Kamal Nath says the government has powers to deal with any unusual price rises Communist allies dropped their opposition to the bill following concessions.

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