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Health activists oppose industrial property bill

By Joan Akello

The IP Bill seeks to protect Inventions, Trademarks, Industrial Designs and other forms of Industrial Property. It shall as well repeal the old Patent Act of Uganda. The TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) provides for a degree of flexibility in fulfilling the minimum Protection Standards for IPRS.

Coalition for Health Promotion & Social Development (HEPS Uganda) with funding from Oxfam-HPAF, in partnership with AIDS Health Care Foundation (AHF) together with Uganda Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines partners want Model Provisions to promote Access to Affordable Medicines incorporated in the bill.

The pharmaceutical patents play a key role in the availability and affordability to   medicines especially for people living with HIV/AIDS in poor countries.  Patent protection can be a contentious issue in high – income countries, when high medicine prices impede access to effective treatment.

Uganda is a less developed country under TRIPS flexibilities on public health.  It is not obliged to grant patents on medicines until 2016 or until it ceases to be an LDC since there is a possibility for an extension. The activists are concerned about how parliament will solve this anomaly to grant access to affordable medicines for patients.

The activists organized a one day capacity training to equip UCAEM partners with knowledge and skills required to understand national, regional and international intellectual property regimes and flexibilities and to advocate effectively to enhance access to medicines.

Mariam Akiror, programme officer research and monitoring health and human rights one of the facilitators said, ” Without compulsory license for manufacturing these drugs by Quality Chemical Ltd. Uganda means that Uganda will still have to buy them at a higher price since they are patented.”

The long awaited Industrial Property (IP) Bill 2009 is now before the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs. The activists are appealing to the MPS on that committee to delete the TRIPS –plus provisions in the bill that have a negative impact on access to medicines. Without competition from generic drugs, the prices of medicines often remain too high for most governments and individuals.

However, activists say the bill, 2009 is TRIPS-plus; it goes over and above the minimum required standards. It makes it harder for Generic Medicines to enter the market by imposing strict border measures not required by TRIPS Flexibilities on Public Health. “TRIPS-Plus” policies have an impact on the prices of medicines. Without generics, the People living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda today would not have Access to ARVS because they rely on these medicines to keep alive and healthy.

Akiror said, “To make sure that in future Ugandans can afford newer and better medicines, delete the TRIPS-Plus provisions for TRIPS Flexibilities like Compulsory Licensing, Parallel Importation, Higher Patent Standards to be utilised.”

“MPS, you are not compelled to provide ‘more Extensive IPR Protection because TRIPS Art.1.1 states; “…Members may, but shall not be obliged to, implement in their law more extensive protection than is required by this Agreement…” Akiror says this provision undermines access to medicines in Uganda.

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