Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Two David and Goliath Struggles

Our Aids Relief Programme here at Mwandi has over 1500 people alive today thanks to affordable supplies of ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) from India. The cost of these drugs has fallen from around GBP200 a year to about GBP45 – thanks to the Indian generic drugs industry. This means that international donors, including ironically, the EU’s Global Funding, can help at least six million HIV-positive mostly people in the less-developed world.

Our programme also relies on generic medicines from India to treat other diseases and conditions. But a free trade agreement, currently under negotiation between the EU and India, could greatly restrict the ability of manufacturers in India to continue producing affordable generics that millions of people rely on to stay alive.

At the moment European Union is having trade talks with India and want to increase protection of the intellectual property rights and the commercial interests of European pharmaceuticals giants. They call it "data exclusivity" and along with this the EU is proposing an ambitious enforcement agenda. These harmful intellectual property (IP) provisions will hinder access to quality and affordable generic medicines produced in India, which have played a crucial role in scaling up HIV treatment to more than 6.6 million people across Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The Indian government has raised serious concerns, stating that the agreement could ‘impede legitimate competition and shift the costs of enforcing private commercial rights to governments, consumers and taxpayers’. The European Commission is also apparently pushing for the trade deal to be expanded to cover investments, and not only intellectual property but also an ‘investor-to-state’ mechanism.

This would allow multinational drug companies to bypass Indian courts and take the Indian government to private arbitration courts in investment disputes over intellectual property, which could also lead to the reverse of domestic health policies like tobacco warnings and measures to reduce prices of medicines

The EC are also trying to persuade India to accept restrictions on its generic medicine industry that would mean delays of up to 10 years in producing generic versions of any new, improved medicines and up to 15 years in the case of children’s versions of the same drugs. This is clearly an attack on the health of the world's poor motivated by the callous demands of profit-hungry multinational pharmaceutical companies.

It is vital that this is brought to light and stopped. The rights of people living with HIV having easy and affordable access to essential and life-saving medicine must be protected, especially for the world's most impoverished and vulnerable people.

Greed should not triumph over need.

Yesterday our Chipolopolo Boys, the Copper Bullets, aka Zambia’s National Football Team arrived back home from Libreville, Gabon, to an ecstatic welcome in Lusaka where an estimated 200 000 people thronged the streets all the way from the Airport to the Showgrounds. Winning the African Cup of Nations was something to really celebrate with pride nationwide. People all over the country, including Mwandi, wore football tops, clothes or chitenges in the national colours of green, red, orange and black. Zambia won the African Nations Cup for the first time on Sunday, beating the favourites, the Ivory Coast, 8-7 in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw in the final.

Zambia had been seen as the underdog and had to put up with all the usual patronizing and condescension from the World Soccer Establishment’s pundits at the competition. The Zambian team was considered second-rate, rank outsiders and potential also-rans. So the victory brought some joy and consolation too to this Zam-Scot after our own recent tennis, soccer and rugby disappointments.

The team had earlier paid a moving visit to the beach to commemorate the loss of the 1993 Zambian football team in a plane crash outside Libreville in Gabon where they were to play. That Zambian team was expected to win the game and qualify for the 1994 World Cup but the entire team was wiped out, except for Kalusha Bwalya, now the President of the Zambian FA. So the match on Sunday was a “Date with Destiny”.

The competition comprises of 54 teams and en route to the Championship Final Zambia eliminated Senegal, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.

The presentation of the cup was a national occasion, to receive it were First Republican President Kenneth Kaunda, Rupiah Banda the former President, the present Vice-President Guy Scott, Kalusha Bwalya and Christopher Katongo, the Captain.

Ivory Coast (Orange): Barry; Gosso, K Toure, Bamba, Tiene; Zokora, Y Toure, Tiote; Gervinho, Drogba, Kalou.

Zambia (Green): Mweene; Nkausu, Sunzu, Himoonde, Musonda; Chansa, Lungu, Sinkala, Kalab; C Katonga, Mayuka, F Katongo.

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