Drugless in Peru

Published: 13th December 2012 08:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th December 2012 08:34 AM   |  A+A-

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When the Sundance Festival opens at Utah in mid-January, there will be one film from India, ‘Fire in the Blood’ made by an Indian film-maker based in Mumbai. Going by the theme it handles, the film directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, should generate a lot of heat and dust.

“The film is about the drug blockade by Western pharmaceutical companies and governments who denied millions of AIDS patients in Africa, access to cheap medicines, finally leading to avoidable deaths,” says Dylan Mohan Gray, who has worked with names like Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair and Paul Greengrass among many others.

Dylan is in the city to attend the Triggerpitch section of the IFFK-2012, a joint venture by the Indian Documentary Foundation and the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy where five films dealing with important social issues are invited. ‘Fire in the Blood’ would thus get a platform to create an awareness on the issues among the activists, NGOs, policymakers and mediahouses here.

Peal off the peripheral layer about the drug blockade in the film, and you have major monsters springing out at you in the form of monopoly of pharma companies, expensive life saving drugs and how India is being forced to make policy changes in matters of patent in the guise of the EU-Free Trade Agreement.

“India is a pharmacy to the developing world, you see. You go to a medical shop in Peru or South Africa or any developing country, you see branded medicines gather dust. People prefer Indian generic drugs which are affordable and do not any compromise on quality. This is what the West is trying to change, they want to take off India’s capability to make generic drugs and this is hugely dangerous to the whole world,” says Dylan who hopes that the film would trigger worldwide discussions on the topic.

Worldwide protests are already on, from Nairobi to Kathmandu and from Jakarta to New Delhi. Campaigns by several organisations including Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders have been mounting pressure on Europe to back down. The campaign ‘Europe: Hands Off Our Medicine’ have caught on in other parts of the world where Indian drugs are widely used.

The film, shot in four continents, has contributions from global figures such as Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and Jos Stiglitz. “We have a journalist from Uganda in the film, who lost his seven siblings to the epidemic but was saved at the last minute. The break in the blockade happened just at that time to save millions from death’s door,” says Dylan. “Put on antiretroviral drugs, the chances of transmission are brought down,” he adds.

The larger issue that Dylan wants people to think about is the monopoly on life-saving drugs. “Right now, with the generic drugs in India, a poor kid in Jharkhand can have easier access to a drug than a rich kid in New York,” said Dylan. “I think monopolies on lifesaving drugs should go. When a drug company holds a patent on a medicine, it can prevent other companies from selling the drug and even charge high prices as there would be no competition in the market.”

In India, until recently, patents were only for the processes and not really on the product, which allowed the country to manufacture and export affordable medicines. “There is so much of goodwill for India in other countries and most Indians do not know about this. Once the awareness is created, I think we film-makers will have to hand over the campaigns to NGOs and other organisations with a wider network,” says Dylan.

And Dylan would return to film-making. At least that is what this Canada-born Mumbaikar says for now!

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