AMRITA THAKKAR, 16, is a student from a poor family living in a far off suburb of Mumbai. She has chronic myloid leukaemia, which is a type of blood cancer. In order to survive , she needs a specific drug that locks the cell mechanism responsible for creating the cancer. Her mother worked overtime to sustain the family and cover Amrita's treatment expenses. Her 17-year-old brother took up a part-time job while in college to help. But after a couple of months of treatment, they could not afford the drug. After Amrita had gone without treatment for six months, her mother approached the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), which funded her treatment for five years.
The CPAA is a non-governmental organisation that provides for the total management of cancer patients. It could afford to treat her only because it bought cheap drugs made by the generic drug industry. Treatment costs were roughly Rs.10,000 a month. When many generic drug companies were forced to withdraw their drugs from the market in November 2003, the regular supply of this medicine dried up. Novartis was given exclusive rights to market and sell Gleevec in India. At Rs.1,25,000 a month, it was not an option for Amrita.
The CPAA had to suspend support to her and 300 other patients being treated with generic drugs. Many other cancer organisations have done the same thing. Now, her fate and that of tens of thousands of others hang on the ruling of a Bench of the Madras High Court.