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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Hundreds of Kenyans living with HIV protested outside EU offices in Nairobi on Thursday against a deal they say may block access to cheap life-saving AIDS drugs.
The European Union and India are due to discuss a free-trade agreement in Brussels on Friday which campaigners say will cause shortages of generic antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. A U.N. study found that the proposed deal could make generics more expensive.
Under the proposed deal, patent terms would be extended beyond 20 years while data exclusivity provisions would force Indian manufacturers to carry out their own clinical trials instead of using existing data.
This would delay registration of generic ARVs for several years, according to the U.N.
"Unless the attacks by the European Commission on the future of generic production in India are stopped, costs will rise, ARV access will be rationed and patients will die," said Hussein Kerrow of the advocacy group Medecins sans Frontieres.
Generic ARVs cost about $137 per person per year, a fraction of the price of patented ARVs used to treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, and are sold by Western pharmaceutical companies.
Only a third of the 14.6 million people around the world who need ARVs are currently receiving them. More than 80 percent of those using them, as well as patients in developing countries, get their drugs from India, activists say.
"We depend on these drugs from India because they are cheap and they are very good," said Tom Osongo, 62, a demonstrator.
The placard-waving protestors presented a petition to Eric van der Linden, the EU's head of delegation in Kenya, who said that he would pass on their message but gave no promises.
"I am not a magician," he said.
HIV positive Osongo said he had been suffering from tuberculosis, pneumonia and typhoid, until six years ago, when he started on the life-enhancing drugs.
"If they (generic ARVs) are not available, the first thing that would happen is me to go back down with the disease and maybe even die," he said.
Editing by Wangui Kanina