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Will Budget bring relief to cancer, AIDS patients?

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai , Feb. 27

There could be some relief for patients suffering from cancer and AIDS, if Budget 2006 does indeed slash the different duties on critical drugs for treating these conditions.

The apex Chemicals and Fertilisers Ministry has proposed Customs and excise duty cuts on over 75 cancer treatment drugs and 30-plus anti-AIDS drugs to make them affordable, a Ministry official told Business Line.

Cisplatin and carboplatin (used for chemotheraphy), azathioprine, interferon, melphalan, morphine sulphate, and pacitaxel are just some of the cancer drugs that have been recommended for zero duty.

Nevirapine, the medicine given to a HIV-affected mothers to prevent them from transmitting the ailment to infants, stavudine, saquinavir, lamivudine-zidovudine combination drug, indinavir, etc., are some of the anti-AIDS drugs listed by the Ministry.

At a recent meeting of the National AIDS Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, it was also suggested that the public sector drug companies make the first-line AIDS drugs that are off patent.

These drugs would be supplied to the National Aids Control Organisation, which spearheads the rollout of anti-AIDS drugs through hospitals across the country, the official said.

While India has an estimated 5.1 million people suffering from HIV/AIDS, according to the draft Pharmaceutical Policy, at any point about 25 lakh people suffer from cancer in the country.

A conservative estimate of Rs 25,000 spent on cancer drugs per patient would require about Rs 5,000 crore worth of drugs.

But the current turnover of the segment is only about Rs 150 crore. This gap makes the drugs unaffordable, the official said.

While it will be revealed tomorrow whether the recommended list of cancer and AIDS drugs did make it to the Budget final print, the Ministry subsequently looks to take its recommendation to the next level - States will then be asked to exempt these drugs from VAT, the official said.

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