Health Compact ‘waters down’ access to affordable medicine

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PillsIn May 2018, the Trade and Industry Department finally unveiled a new policy that would help to rein in pharmaceutical industry profiteering, but the industry has fought back.

Mark Heywood, the editor of the soon-to-be-launched Maverick Citizen and former executive director at Section27 and Zain Rizvi, a law & policy researcher at Public Citizen write in a Daily Maverick report that the Intellectual Property (IP) Policy of the Republic of South Africa, offered a fresh vision of how to improve medicine access.

They write that phase 1 of this policy concentrated on issues to do with IP and public health. It recognised “the dire circumstances that ensue from lack of (medicine) affordability” and endorsed a range of measures to improve access.

But, write Heywood and Rizvi, the pharmaceutical industry has fought back. They write that on 25 July, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Presidential Health Compact in a blaze of publicity.

The compact, which came into being after stakeholder consultations, promises a new commitment to fixing the public healthcare system. It includes a pillar on Access to Essential Medicines. Unfortunately, write Heywood and Rizvi, pharma’s “fingerprints have crept in”, watering down the language on medicine access compared to the IP policy and raising concerns about the expected new legislation.

They say the IP policy that Cabinet has adopted is imperfect, but it is principled. Most importantly, it recognises the “constitutional imperative to increase access to medicines” as a component of section 27 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to access healthcare.

In contrast, they write, the compact’s language on access to medicines largely echoes industry talking-points, shifting the focus away from health.

” the compact’s language on access to medicines largely echoes industry talking-points, shifting the focus away from health. It designates two organisations – the South African Medical Association and Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa – as leading this work, none of which represent patients. It also presents false choices between balancing access, and innovation, research and development, and foreign investment. These have always been a distraction.”

Full Daily Maverick report

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