11 Jan 2018

How do patents violate your treatment rights?

An important step for activists wanting to support treatment access is to understand how patents operate – and how the patent system is abused by pharmaceutical companies.

The short video below explains patents and how they are abused to make profits at the expense of lives and health.

You can find out more about campaigns to make medicines more affordable by ending unfair monopolies at the Make Medicines Affordable website.

You can also join the campaign to Fix the Patent Laws led by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Only 54% (10.3 million people) of all people living with HIV in Eastern and Southern Africa were accessing antiretroviral therapy in 2015.

Writing in The Lancet after the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, Professor Nana Poku warned that ‘ ..the viability of ending AIDS by 2030 is threatened by the possibility that new trade and intellectual property regulations, including new data exclusivity provisions, could block or curtail the affordability of antiretroviral drugs.’

‘As the 17 million people currently enrolled [globally] in HIV treatment begin to require second-line and third-line antiretrovirals, the need will become acute, to which must be added at least another 20 million individuals who are not currently receiving antiretrovirals; and the hope invested in treatment as prevention.’

Poku cautioned that ‘Work to prevent the introduction of restrictive international trade laws will require concerted political, diplomatic, and lobbying efforts, as well as the global solidarity of AIDS activists throughout the world.’

The South African government issued a draft Intellectual Property Policy in August 2017. The policy prioritises people’s constitutionally guaranteed right of access to healthcare services and aims to amend patent laws to ensure access to essential medicines.

As far back as 2003, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state, meeting in Maseru, Lesotho, issued a declaration on HIV/AIDS setting out priority areas that included:

  • Putting in place national legislation and regional legal regimes to ensure the availability of technologies and drugs at affordable prices for treatment, including bulk purchasing of drugs and manufacturing of generic medicines in the region;
  • Increasing access to affordable essential medicines, including ARVs and related technologies, through regional initiatives for joint purchasing of drugs, with the view of ensuring the availability of drugs through sustainable mechanisms, using funds from national budgets.

In the SADC HIV and AIDS Framework 2010-2015, development of a regional policy for bulk drug and supplies procurement was still an outstanding issue.

Poku wrote that it was remarkable that SADC ‘the world’s largest market for antiretroviral drugs’ had still not organised a bulk purchasing mechanism for antiretrovirals. ‘There can be few greater instances of missed opportunity for the coincidence of group solidarity, national self-interest, and human welfare.’

If you are involved in advocacy for policy and programmes to improve access to anti-retroviral therapy and other essential medicines, you can use the Sex Rights Africa Network to tell people about your work and link up others who can support your efforts. Email us at abbeyhudson@aids.org.za