Views & Reviews Film Review

Patent injustice: how India brought cheap HIV drugs to Africa

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f7013 (Published 25 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7013
  1. Leena Menghaney, lawyer and India co-ordinator of the Access Campaign at Médecins Sans Frontières, K 30 Jungpura Extension, New Delhi, India
  1. leena.menghaney{at}msf.org

How did people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries overcome prohibitive patents to win access to lifesaving antiretroviral drugs? Leena Menghaney reflects on a documentary film that has recently been released in India

As a lawyer in India working on tackling the patent barriers that keep drugs for hepatitis C and cancer expensive, particularly in developing countries, I see today’s medical community take for granted the availability and affordability of HIV treatment in developing countries.

The director Dylan Mohan Gray’s hard hitting documentary Fire in the Blood focuses on the AIDS epidemic, especially in Africa. It systematically exposes how patents enabled Western pharma corporations to increase their profits while millions of people in the developing world lost their lives. It also chronicles the struggle by a few people, primarily, Zackie Achmat, a South African activist, and Peter Mugyenyi, a doctor in Uganda, as they campaigned for access to cheaper, generic drugs.

Fire in the Blood knits together rare archival footage and interviews with activists from the late 1990s, when the epidemic killed millions of people in Africa who had no access to antiretroviral drugs and drugs to treat opportunistic infection. All of these drugs were patented and hence priced out of …

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