By Amitabh Pal on April 02, 2013

An Indian court just granted a huge victory to the sick all over the planet.

“People in developing countries worldwide will continue to have access to low-cost copycat versions of drugs for diseases like H.I.V. and cancer, at least for a while,” said the front-page lead story in the New York Times on Tuesday. “Production of the generic drugs in India, the world’s biggest provider of cheap medicines, was ensured on Monday in a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court.”

The specific case involved the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which unsuccessfully argued that the tinkering it did with its anti-leukemia drug Glivec was worthy of a new patent. At stake was not just access to affordable medicine for leukemia patients but also the survival of the Indian generic industry—the world’s leading manufacturer of low-cost medications.

In 1970, India amended its patent law to have patents awarded only for the processes to make medicines, not for the final products. The ramifications were global.

“India became the ‘pharmacy of the world's poor’ in 1970,” the BBC states. “This allowed its many drug producers to create generic copies of medicines still patent-protected in other countries —at a fraction of the price charged by Western drug firms.”

So, Indian generic drug companies played a huge role in combating the biggest scourge of our time.

“It was only when Indian firms began to make cheap copies of HIV drugs that it became possible more than a decade ago to contemplate the treatment of millions of people in impoverished countries of Africa, where the AIDS epidemic was at its worst,” The Guardian writes.

All this seemed to be in jeopardy when in 2005, India’s parliament, under Western pressure, amended the patent law to comply with World Trade Organization rules. A lot of observers, including me, were worried that this move would mark the death-knell for the availability of affordable drugs around the world. But the Indian judiciary has pleasantly surprised us.

Advocacy groups are delighted.

“This is a huge relief for the millions of patients and doctors in developing countries who depend on affordable medicines from India, and for treatment providers like MSF,” Dr. Unni Karunakara, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), said. “The Supreme Court's decision now makes patents on the medicines that we desperately need less likely.”

There are worrisome clouds on the horizon, however. The awful 2005 law that the Indian parliament passed tightened patents on drugs made after 1995, and the anti-leukemia drug in question was introduced by Novartis in 1993. The real test will come when cases are heard for drugs developed recently or in the future.

“The million-dollar question is what is going to happen for new drugs that have not yet come out,” says Leena Menghaney of Doctors Without Borders.

At the same time, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is lobbying fast and furious for trade agreements (such as the proposed TransPacific Partnership) to include the toughest patent protections possible.

But these are looming battles to be fought on another day. For now, millions of people have reason to rejoice.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Wall Street Execs Should Face Criminal Consequences."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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