Uganda Laments Passage of New Indian Patent Law

March 29, 2005

Following last week's approval of the World Trade Organisation-compliant patent law in India, Uganda has led criticism of the measure from a number of Sub-Saharan African countries affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Indian-made generic antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) are used in the care of 80% of the 30,000 sufferers currently treated in Uganda, and officials had hoped to extend existing schemes to a further 30,000 by the end of 2005.

The government has highlighted that, while alternative sources of ARVs are likely to be secured from other countries, an interruption in supplies is to be expected. Indian companies such as Hetero, Ranbaxy and Cipla are key players in Uganda, where leading therapies such as GlaxoSmithKline's Combivir (zidovudine/lamivudine) and nevirapine/lamivudine are leading products in the struggle against the disease.

Nevertheless, authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa can take some comfort from the fact that India's new patent law does not cover drugs patented before 1995, and will only protect new discoveries according to strict novelty criteria. Indeed, Indian generics manufacturers Cipla and Wockhardt have welcomed this provision, as it will allow exports of some off-patent drugs to continue. Further, a number of voluntary exemptions already apply under the US government's PEPFAR AIDS relief programme, as well as via the World Health Organisation's Essential Drugs List.