9 May 2007
India today is the place where the poorest people on earth get their medicines. This is because it is the only country willing to manufacture cheap copies of corporate-owned drug treatments for cancer, Aids and other killers, and big enough to do it. Their policy has brought the cost of treating a woman with Aids in sub-Saharan Africa crashing down from an impossible $10,000 a year in 2000 to a still-tough-but-possible $130 a year today.
They can only save so much money - and so many lives - because the Indian government insists it will only pay money to the multibillion-dollar corporations which own the drug patents if they can show they really have created something genuinely new. Most of the time, they can't - so the Indians sell them to the poor at cost-price.
The court case currently wending through the Indian justice system, launched by the Swiss phramaceutical company Novartis, is an attempt to close down the poor's world pharmacy.
If Novartis succeeds, the developing the impact on the world’s poor will be immense. The aid agency Médicin Sans Frontières (MSF) - who treat 80,000 people in Africa with cheap Indian generics - warn it could mean "the end of affordable medicines in developing countries".
There may still be time to force Novartis to pull out of the legal action before the verdict. Go to the Médicin Sans Frontières website to sign a petition which may help to save millions of lives.