SA health activists deliver memorandum over patent laws

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

More than 1,000 health activists from the Fix the Patent Laws campaign, comprising 32 organisations,  formed part of  a protest to the SA Department of Trade and Industry over their dissatisfaction with expensive medicines for chronic diseases.

The protesters will hand their memorandum which demands change in laws for everyone to receive affordable medicines for diseases such as cancer, hepatitis, tuberculosis, mental health.

According to the report, Doctors Without Borders said in 2013 the South African government “committed to reforming South Africa’s patent laws in a draft National Policy on Intellectual Property. Yet three years later, nothing has changed and many people still suffer unnecessarily”.

Doctors Without Borders said that in July “the Cabinet approved a new Intellectual Property (IP) Consultative Framework for South Africa. The Consultative Framework now presents a process for finalisation of the draft Policy. The Fix the Patent Laws campaign will deliver a detailed submission of recommendations on the framework when we march to the DTI”.

Doctors Without Borders said they have won the battle for HIV medicines, but lost when it comes to other medicines.

The report says DTI spokesperson, Sidwell Medupe, was not immediately available for comment.


Patients are being denied life-saving medicines because South Africa’s patent regime allows multinational drug companies readily to block cheaper generic rivals and stifle competition, according to a report from health activists lobbying the government for legal reform.

The Fix the Patent Laws Campaign says in a Business Day report that South Africa’s legal framework for patents makes it too easy for pharmaceutical companies to extend their monopoly period on drugs, sometimes for years after it has expired elsewhere in the world.

The coalition has 31 organisations including Doctors without Borders (MSF), the Treatment Action Campaign and patient advocacy groups for epilepsy, cancer and mental health.

"Companies commonly apply for multiple patents on individual medicines over time – a tactic known as ever-greening. "Due to shortcomings in SA’s laws – namely the lack of examination for patent applications – ever-greening occurs frequently," according to the campaign’s memorandum.

It says patients – both rich and poor – are denied vital medicines because they are too expensive for the state or medical schemes to fund, and cites Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hepatitis B medicine Baraclude as examples. Herceptin costs R485,800 for a year’s course of treatment in South Africa – triple the price of a biosimilar called Hertraz jointly marketed by Biocon and Mylan in India. No biosimilars are available in South Africa. Lifelong treatment with Baraclude costs between R92 and R184 a day in South Africa. Cheaper generic versions are available in other countries, including the US and India, but not in South Africa. The Indian generic is a sixth of the price of Baraclude.

Separately from the report, the coalition claims that more than 7,000 patents have been granted on pharmaceuticals in South Africa since 2013, 80% of which, it says, should have been rejected for failing to meet patentability criteria.

Business Day reports that the coalition’s draft policy proposed sweeping changes to the patent regime for medicines in South Africa that were welcomed by health activists, as they would have brought into effect the public health safeguards of the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

"This process has been going on for far too long and medicines are being patented unnecessarily because of it. We want access to affordable medicines for patients in South Africa now," said MSF advocacy officer Claire Waterhouse.

But the report said the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of SA (Ipasa) questioned the coalition’s claim that South Africa had granted thousands of spurious patents on medicines, and challenged it to provide details of these patents. CEO Konji Sebati said patient access to medicines was hampered by delays at the Medicines Control Council, which took up to four years to register multinational pharmaceutical companies’ products.

Ipasa welcomed the Department of Trade and Industry’s approach in preparing a new draft intellectual property policy, she said. The country needed a policy that promoted South Africa as a destination for innovation and technology.

Polity report Business Day report

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