Critical moment for Kenyan industrial property bill

Millions already ill but, with safeguards, bill can provide access to cheaper medicines
Press relase, Nairobi, May 10, 2001- At a press conference today in Nairobi, the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines (Footnote*), called on MPs to ensure that public health takes precedence over private financial interests and that essential medicines are affordable. The call comes as departmental committees prepare to review the Industrial Property Bill (IP Bill) during May recess. The coalition warned that millions are at risk of disease and death unless the government is allowed to make full use of WTO/TRIPS-related safeguards like parallel importing and compulsory licensing. "Every Kenyan has a friend or family member suffering from HIV related infections. The Industrial Property Bill is a unique opportunity to ensure that Kenyan patients and doctors can legally access cheaper medicines to prolong and save lives," said Dr Christopher Ouma of Action Aid, speaking for the Kenya Coalition. "Doctors are tired of not treating patients when drugs exist. Kenya must be able to shop around the world for the cheapest drugs. The MPs must not miss this opportunity to include life-saving WTO/TRIPS safeguards such as parallel importing and compulsory licensing in the bill." The Kenya Coalition expressed concern that the multi-nationals could put pressure on the Kenyan government to drop or amend these vital, legal and internationally recognized safeguards, which could ensure the right of access to affordable medicines for millions of people suffering from AIDS and other diseases. Multinational pharmaceutical companies are among the most profitable industries in the world. Africa makes up just over 1% of the global pharmaceutical market, and Kenya but a minute fraction of that. Despite high profile publicity around multi-national discount offers, these offers are no substitution for a legal system, which will ensure long-term sustainable access to affordable medicines. The company offers are only for AIDS drugs and have only been offered under heavy public pressure. These do not cover medicines for other life-threatening diseases, like TB and malaria. Kenya cannot afford to rely on the charity of profit making companies for its future. After a year of consultation and of work by government departments, and by health and intellectual property experts, the "Industrial Property Bill" 2001 has been published. Once passed, the bill will make Kenya TRIPS/WTO compliant. The published bill protects intellectual property rights (increasing patent protection to 20 years), but also gives the government the means to access cheaper medicines though internationally recognized ‘safeguard' mechanisms such as parallel importing (the right to shop around the world for the cheapest offer of patented drugs); and compulsory licenses (issuing licenses for the production or importation of cheaper generic medicines). It is essential that these safeguards remain in the bill as published. One of the key safe-guards, recommended by WTO and WHO, which is NOT currently in the bill is the "Bolar provision", allows local generic manufacturers to do the appropriate trials, registration process etc, to be ready to roll off the production line as soon as the patent expires. In Kenya, it is estimated that around 2.5 million adults are living with HIV, and that around 500 people die per day of HIV related infections. What has become a chronic disease in Europe and America - where patients are treated and so reducing mortality by 75% - remains a deadly plague in Africa. One of the key factors why people continue to die of AIDS is that anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and other essential medicines are too expensive. Although generic companies such as India's CIPLA have been selling triple combination of ARVs to governments (to Cameroon and Nigeria), at 350$US (Footnote**) per patient per year. In May, in Kenya, the cheapest price negotiated by certain hospitals came to US$ 1,330- 1,620 (Footnote***) per patient per year, but most hospitals and individuals continue to pay much more. Only 1,000-2,000 people are estimated to be undergoing treatment. Footnotes: * The Kenya Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines includes: Action Aid, The Association of People living with AIDS in Kenya (TAPWAK); Health Action International (HAI Africa); Network for people living with HIV/AIDS (NEPHAK); Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK); Society for Woman and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK); Nyumbani; International Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA); CARE International; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); DACASA; Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres (PSF); Kenya Medical Association (KMA); Consumer Information Network; Campaigners for AIDS Free Society. ** $350 US per year is KSH 27,300 per patient per year, which works out at about KSH 2,275 per month per patient. *** $1,300- 1,700 per year is KSH 103,704 – 126,400 per patient per year, or KSH 8,524- 10,389 per month per patient.