New Indian law to hit AIDS control

Alice Desclaux — Photo : T. Singaravelou

Alice Desclaux — Photo : T. Singaravelou  

Burkina Faso depends on Indian drugs

Rajesh Nair

PONDICHERRY: The AIDS control programme of Africa, especially in Burkina Faso, would be adversely affected due to recent legislation in Parliament to ban companies from producing cheap copies of brand name drugs, said anthropologist Alice Desclaux. She has been working in African countries for the past several years on the World Health Organisation's AIDS control programme.

Ms. Alice, who is in Pondicherry to attend a seminar in the French Research Institute, told The Hindu that the legislation would jeopardise the entire AIDS control programme in Africa. "The legislation came at a time when some of the African countries were showing signs of controlling the epidemic. About 80 per cent of patients in Burkina Faso depend on antiretroviral drugs produced by Indian companies. They all depend on fixed-dose combinations and their concerns are especially about second-line treatments and special treatments such as paediatric presentations that still do not exist as generics," she said.

The patients' concerns were evident when many of them who are on anti-retroviral drugs staged protests in Ouagadougou recently against India's decision. Due to the legislation, immigration to Europe has started again, as some patients cannot take first line treatments available under the generic form and must shift to branded drugs, said Ms. Alice.

`Symbolic content'

Ms. Alice, one of the anthropologists chosen for WHO's "3 by 5 initiative programme" to increase antiretroviral drugs to people with AIDS in developing countries, said "the problem of AIDS is a challenging issue from a theoretical point of view for anthropology. Its link with sexuality, death and reproduction, blood and body fluids, cultural models for intimate experiences regarding the body and couple relationships give AIDS a symbolic content."

Regarding prevention or treatment, the role of culture in shaping individual behaviour amongst other forces is a relevant topic for interpretative anthropology, a trend in anthropology working on meanings.

Ms. Alice said anthropological study would help understand key issues in treatment uses, organised care and help renew cultural models for a social treatment.

Sharing her experiences in associating with various AIDS control programmes in Africa, Ms. Alice said in that countries such as Senegal and Burkina Faso, alternative medicines were growing in popularity. Such medicines were no more "substitute treatment for antiretroviral drugs but complementary."

One of the main challenges in the AIDS control programme, especially in antiretroviral therapy treatment all over the world, would be the "adherence factor," which she explained as "one's commitment to continue medication."

The belief that antiretroviral drugs could only prolong life to a certain extent, the stigma attached in taking them coupled with the cost factor, is coming in the way of treatment, Ms. Alice said. "This where anthropologists, sociologists and medical practitioners have a role to play together in addressing the problem," she said.

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