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India aids Rwanda in hepatitis elimination efforts

India is lending a helping hand to Rwanda in the fight against hepatitis.

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In attempts to aid the country in subsidising its expensive hepatitis treatment programme, the Indian government has donated hepatitis B and C drugs worth over USD 1.5 million (approximately Rwf 1.4 billion).

The news reinforces India’s position is a giant in the field of drug production and its status to some as the “pharmacy of the developing world”. This comes from a stance taken in previous years on patenting laws that placed India as a far more relaxed environment for the production of comparatively low-cost generic medications.

This stance often drew the ire of pharmaceutical companies worldwide, who often viewed India’s liberal approach to patent laws as allowing circumnavigation of brand named medications. In recent years India has adhered far more closely to global orthodoxy when it comes to patent laws, with instances such as the granting of a patent to Pfizer’s PCV13 drawing condemnation from both the Indian media and humanitarian groups such as Médecins Sans Frontières.

However, India’s huge capacity for production of generic medications remains, with exports of Indian medications forming a market valued in the billions on a yearly basis. While talk of India being the “pharmacy of the developing world” seems to have subsided in recent years, India still provides huge quantities of medications to developing nations.

This charitable donation to Rwanda’s hepatitis programme is an example of this. It also demonstrates India’s role in a remarkable effort to rid Rwanda of hepatitis as part of a longer term programme. “This donation comes as an additional support to eradicating Hepatitis C in five years as our target,” said Dr. Patrick Ndimubanzi, Minister of State for Public and Primary Healthcare in the Rwanda Ministry of Health.

The hepatitis drugs, manufactured by Indian pharmaceutical industries were delivered to Dr. Ndimubanzi by Oscar Kerketta, the Indian High Commissioner to Rwanda, on April 16th. The donated drugs will benefit some 2,000 patients with hepatitis B and 5,000 with hepatitis C.

In December last year, Rwanda launched a USD 113 million national campaign to begin elimination attempts against hepatitis C. However, treatment is currently expensive and may cost up to Rwf 1 million per patient. The Rwandan government hopes to lower the cost to around Rwf 80,000 in a five-year period. Indian efforts may aid in such a goal, and potentially even help Rwanda move towards eradicating the disease entirely.

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