South African Patent Laws Targeted Over Expensive Medicine

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Patent laws that restrict access to affordable medicine for all people living in South Africa prompted some patient and health organisations to join a campaign that calls for reform of the country’s patent laws, according to InterPressService.

The Fix the Patent Laws Campaign was launched in 2011 by Doctors Without Borders and Treatment Action Campaign to push for reform of South Africa’s current patent laws.

It’s part of a growing global movement to remove artificial barriers to health that drug companies create when they seek illegitimate patents, CNN reports.

“Some (South African) cancer patients would rather go to other countries, like India, for treatment. The combined cost of the flight, medical services and drugs is cheaper than buying the drugs alone in South Africa,” said Bernice Lass of cancer group, CanSurvive, in an IPS interview.

Governments confer patents rights to products that are proven to be useful, non-obvious and novel, according to CNN. But too often, pharmaceutical companies increase profits by making exclusive claims on science that is already in the public domain.

A coalition of at least 12 South African organisations want to fix South Africa’s patent laws. They represent public and private-sector patients seeking treatment for a range of diseases, according to IPS. These include HIV, tuberculosis, sexual and reproductive health diseases, cancers, mental illnesses, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.

The coalition includes People Living With Cancer, South African Depression and Anxiety Group, DiabetesSA, CanSurvive, SA Federation for Mental Health, Stop Stock Outs, Cancer Association of Southern Africa, Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Alliance, South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, Marie Stopes, Epilepsy South Africa and Cape Mental Health.

They want the government to finalize a national intellectual property policy that helps reduce prices and increase access to a wide range of medicines.

Cassey Chambers with South African Depression and Anxiety Group, said the group deals with patients every day “who cannot afford medication or treatment, and as a result become more depressed, helpless, hopeless and even suicidal.”

South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry released a Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property for public comment in 2013. It contained important commitments to reform laws that would benefit people’s health and restore the balance between public and private interest, IPS reports.

Doctors Without Borders and Treatment Action Campaign argue that South Africa grants patents almost indiscriminately on most patent applications it receives, allowing companies monopolies on medicines, and keeping prices higher in South Africa than many other countries.