Activists protested outside the Swiss embassy in London today to demand that Switzerland stop protecting the corporate greed of drug company Novartis, whose attacks on the Indian generic medicines industry could have a devastating impact on people living with HIV all over the developing world. The protest was held in solidarity with activists from Act-Up Paris, who were detained without access to legal or medical care by Swiss authorities last week, after demonstrating outside Novartis’s headquarters in Basel.
Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis has been pursuing a legal case against the Indian government since 2006, following the rejection of a patent for its cancer drug Glivec. Last week, in a final bid to overturn this decision, Novartis took the battle to the Indian Supreme Court for its last hearing. Campaigners globally have been demanding that Novartis drops this case which fundamentally threatens the supply of affordable medicines from India to the developing world.
Indian patent law allows the rejection of patents on drugs which are modified versions of existing products – a process known as ‘ever-greening’ – which is often used by pharmaceutical companies to continue to extend the patent life on vital drugs, keeping
them priced out of reach for the world’s poor. Novartis are attempting to undermine this law, making it much easier for drug companies to get unjustifiable extensions on their patent monopolies, and keep prices prohibitively high for longer.
In order to coincide with the start of the trial, Act-Up Paris activists gathered at Novartis HQ in order to deliver a petition of 18,000 signatories condemning the case, which led to the entire group being arrested. The activists were detained separately for 48 hours whilst being prevented from accessing medical care, basic hygiene facilities, lawyers or phone calls. Appallingly, one activist living with HIV was denied access to HIV treatment for the entire duration of his detention.
Lotti Rutter, from the Stop AIDS Campaign said;
“The behavior of the Swiss authorities is absolutely shameful – denying legal and medical care to people in custody is an affront to their human rights and won’t be tolerated quietly. The activists highlighted how Novartis could deny millions of people across the developing world access to treatment, and in the process found themselves in a similar position, unable to get the basic treatment and care they needed.”
The Novartis trial is likely to continue for the next few weeks, as they attempt to undermine this key public health safeguard in India’s patent law designed to prevent abusive patenting practices. Although about a cancer drug the case has the potential to affect the entire generic medicine supply from India to the developing world, a threat to all those in need of HIV treatment.