1 million HIV patients in India have no access to treatment

The joint report issued by the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, and UNICEF said India had made progress in scaling up access over the years, but said given its robust generic drug industry it could have done better.

"India has done well in scaling up access to the ARV therapy over the last seven years," says a senior WHO official, suggesting there is still a huge gap to address.

The universal gap between those needing urgent ARV treatment for HIV/AIDS the world over and those unable to have any access climbed to over 15 million people and there is an urgent need for funds to the tune of USD 10 billion, says Rifat Atun, a senior official of the Global Fund which is the main provider of assistance to countries afflicted with HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

India now ranks third in scaling up access, after South Africa and Kenya during the last five years.

However, it needs to cross some distance for ensuring universal access for all its HIV/AIDS patients.

Around 3,20,074 have received ARV therapy in India at the end of last year as compared to 2,34,581 patients to the previous year. Between 1.1 and 1.4 million HIV/AIDS patients have no access for ARV therapy in India.

Given the number of health professionals and the state of the art generic drug industry in India, the performance on the HIV/AIDS front could be far better in comparison with other low-income countries in Southern Africa, say analysts.

India must consider issuing compulsory licenses for ensuring free access to second and third-line treatment for HIV/AIDS patients whose number is steadily climbing.

Compulsory licensing enables a national government to revoke a license issued to a patent holder and thereby, allow other parties to produce and sell a patented product for non-commercial purposes.

Several industrialised nations resorted to compulsory licensing to enable their national health departments to procure medicines at low prices so as to provide free of cost in government hospitals.

India is yet issue a compulsory license despite its rising HIV/AIDS patients who now need second and third-line treatment.

In 2006, Thailand issued compulsory license for the production of patented drugs for for its HIV-infected population. Later, Brazil also issued compulsory license for the production of patent-drugs produced by an American pharmaceutical company despite enormous pressure from the US.

"Ultimately, the decision to issue a compulsory license depends on the national government," says Mariangela Simao, a senior UNAIDS official.

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