DURBAN — Scientists and activists on Thursday raised the alarm about policy changes in India, which they say threaten its role as the world’s leading supplier of generic HIV/AIDS drugs.

India supplies more than 80% of the generic AIDS drugs used in the developing world. While many of the generic AIDS drugs used in SA are sourced from local manufacturers, the country also imports from Indian suppliers.

Activists marched to the Indian consulate in Durban to hand over a statement of concern from scientists and treatment advocates, calling on the Indian government to resist pressure from the US government and pharmaceutical companies intent on rolling back India’s intellectual property laws.

India’s patent law regime has enabled it to make generic copies of innovator medicines at prices that low-and middle-income countries can afford.

Among the signatories to the statement were former Constitutional Court justice Zak Jacoob and incoming International AIDS Society president Linda-Gail Bekker, co-director of the Desmond Tutu HIV/AIDS Centre in Cape Town.

It was also signed by dozens of advocacy groups, including the Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27.

They also called on the Indian government to stop its crackdown on civil society groups, including the Lawyers Collective.

"If these attacks continue it will strike a blow to global health," said Stephen Lewis, co-director of AIDS Free World and former UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS to Africa.

"There is a conspiracy at work (between) the US government, the Indian government and pharma. This is an effort to subdue India to protect the patents of major pharmaceutical companies and undermine generics," said Lewis at the 21st International AIDS conference.

Section 27 executive director Mark Heywood said India was a "harbinger of what could happen in SA,".

Heywood said civil society groups were worried about a rumoured legislative crackdown on nongovernmental organisations in SA.

They were also concerned about US pressure on the government as it drafts a new policy on intellectual property rights.

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