South Africa Urged To Overhaul Patent Laws To Boost Access To Meds

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As holds a meeting today with officials from the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization to review intellectual property protection, a pair of patient advocacy groups has issued a memo criticizing the country for failing to change its laws to make needed medicines more affordable.

In their memo, Doctors Without Borders and Treatment Action Campaign charge that South Africa has not amended its patent laws to incorporate or implement the 2001 WTO agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, which offers compulsory licensing as an option to countries to make patented drugs more affordable for citizens.

“Although other BRICS countries like India and Brazil have utilized these pro-public health safeguards, South Africa is lagging behind,” they write. “This is highly problematic given South Africa’s high burden for both communicable and non-communicable diseases, and the continuing rise in healthcare costs. There is a pressing need to take urgent steps to address to many important medicines which would save the lives of millions of South Africans.”

The missive is only the latest example of the tussle over patent laws and attempts to expand access to medicines that are not easily afforded by large swaths of people in developing and poor countries. Over just the past week, India partly revoked patents on a breast cancer drug sold by Roche, underscoring the mounting tension over its stance on intellectual propery, and China revoked a patent on a Gilead (GILD) AIDS drug (back stories here, here and here). The cost of prescription drugs is also a key point on the agenda of the…Read more

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