Southern Africa is home to roughly half of the world’s population of people living with HIV. We’re currently focusing on patent laws in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mauritius within the region.
Countries in the region are facing rising prices of second and third-line HIV, TB and Hepatitis C treatment and many are heavily dependent on donors to fund treatment. Countries experience frequent stock-outs of medicines. There is a need for governments to increase domestic spending to ensure consistent access to treatment.
In addition to insufficient national investment, there is a lack of competition due to current intellectual property laws. There is an urgent need for civil society to understand, and challenge, the intellectual property (IP) barriers that block access to essential and affordable medicines. Increased advocacy is needed to encourage policy-makers to make use of TRIPs flexibilities.
The region also struggles with a weak regulatory system, giving rise to concerns about quality, safety and efficacy of medicines with many unregistered products on the market. Even when medicines are registered and procured, there are issues with distribution systems, which also contributes to the stock-outs.
Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mauritius are all World Trade Organization (WTO) members and have incorporated TRIPS flexibilities into their national IP legislation; however, the use of these flexibilities has been extremely limited. 85% of generic antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) available in the region come from India, with only 15% produced by countries in the region.
Botswana has a relatively high burden of HIV, but has a solid IP regulatory system and is the target of most patents by multinational corporations. Zimbabwe has a high HIV and TB co-infection rate, whereas Mauritius has a high HIV and Hepatitis C burden.
In 2014, in response to a general lack of transparency in pricing of medicines in the region, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat worked with the Southern Africa Regional Programme on Access to Medicines and Diagnostics (SARPAM), to create a medicines pricing and procurement database. This database was developed to provide a tool for comparing the prices of medicines. The goal is to give member states within the region, a stronger position when negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.
Our partner, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) is collaborating with SARPAM, to provide direct support to civil society organizations and policy makers in Zimbabwe, Mauritius and Botswana, to review their patent laws and to draft new IP bills, which incorporate TRIPS flexibilities. This work, which primarily focuses on strengthening relationships between civil society and key policy makers, will be replicated in the rest of the region, where member states have expressed interest in amending their patent laws too.
In addition, there is a push for pooled procurement of medicines to move away from negotiations country-by-country. A move in this direction would result in reduced prices.