Remember Stella? No? Well, let me remind you. On World Aids Day in 2010 when I was guest editor of The Independent I chose a story to lead the paper about four-year-old Stella Mbabazi who became HIV-positive in her mother's womb. She had not died. Indeed she, and many like her in rural Uganda, was thriving thanks to a cheap supply of antiretroviral drugs from India.
The cost of those drugs had fallen from nearly $500 a year to just $70 – thanks to the growth of the generic drugs industry in India. It meant that international donors could help Stella and four million other HIV-positive people in the developing world.
But there was a grave threat to little Stella.
Half a world away, European Union bureaucrats in Brussels were preparing for trade talks with India. One of the things the EU wanted was to increase the protection of the intellectual property rights and commercial interests of European pharmaceuticals giants. They called it "data exclusivity".
Now that threat is coming to pass. In a high-level summit in Delhi today officials from the EU will try to force India into accepting restrictions on its generic medicine industry that would mean delays of up to 10 years in delivery of generic versions of new, improved medicines and up to 15 years in the case of paediatric versions of the same drugs. This is an attack on the health of the world's poor motivated by the aggressive demands of profit-hungry multinational pharmaceutical companies.
The British Government must step in and stop the EU attack. The UK has a proud record on international development and access to medicines. In that same issue of The Independent the Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said: "It's important that companies are able to put in place protection for their intellectual property but this must not have a negative impact on public health. The level of protection should be tailored to ensure that much-needed drugs are available in the poorest countries."
The Government must now act to fulfil that pledge. I raised this issue with Prime Minister David Cameron when I met with him early last year. He assured me that access to medicines would not be undermined by this agreement. But I have heard from colleagues in India that the terms that we are most concerned about are still being pushed by EU negotiators. I've battled for many years to see progress in the Aids response. I don't want to see those achievements thrown away.
This is a critical moment. The Government must stand up for the rights of people living with HIV and the health of the world's most vulnerable by stopping this EU attack on the vital Indian supply of essential medicines.
We cannot allow Europe's greed to triumph over the needs of HIV patients around the world.
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