By Joan Akello
Uganda and other Less Developed Countries (LDCs) are lobbying for an extension of the transition period beyond 2016 to become TRIPS compliant. The civil society organizations and private sector in the East African Community are pushing for this extension to buy more time for the countries with the exception of Kenya to overcome capacity constraints and to develop a viable and competitive technological base.
The CSOs say there are several implications of this trade agreement on access medicines and food in particular. If the countries sign the agreement this July to enforce Intellectual Property (IP) protection in their national laws, accessibility may be affected.
This implies that in a country where IP protection is enforced, a producer or distributor of goods who has trade rights to supply that country’s market can be exclusively allowed to supply the market, while prohibiting other producers or suppliers to engage in that market. However, the recipient country may also have in place provisions; within its legislations(flexibilities), for parallel importation , or domestic manufacture which would enable them access or produce a similar good such as a given drug at a more affordable cost than that of the protected producer or distributor.
Elizabeth Tamale Assistant Commissioner, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives said that The TRIPS Agreement ‘can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members’ right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all,’ Doha Declaration, 2001.
She added that EAC Partner states could also lobby other WTO Members including LDCs, Africa Group during the TRIPS Council meetings to start discussing the extension of the transitional period beyond 2016.
EAC and other African LDC Members should take particular attention to AU initiative to create a Pan African Intellectual Property Organisation proposal to negotiate IP issues for AU, set IP standards, combat piracy and counterfeits etc
IP has been and is one of the major inhibitors of access to medicines because before 2000, People living with HIV/AIDS (PHAs) only accessed ARVs privately by out of pocket payments. Globally, only 40,000 PHAs had access to ART in 2000; in 10 years the number increased to more than 5m due to generic competition. The first government free ARV programmes in E.A started in early 2000 with US support.
Kibira Denis from HEPS-Uganda says the Medicine needs have not been met and therefore IP will not solve this problem. He added that the IP approach will not solve the public health problems; mechanisms are not yet in place to implement IPR and that the transition period should be extended until such a time when LDCs are able to meet their public health needs.
“Only 1/3 of the 15 million PHAs that need ART across the world have access. HIV infection rates are increasing at an exponential rate. In Uganda for 1 person started on ART there were 10 new infections in 2009/10.There is increased demand for newer, safer ARVs. Resistance to 1st line regimens requires switch to more expensive 2nd, 3rd lines that are also patent protected we can no longer rely India and Asia.”
Extending the transitional period is likely to make EAC attractive to generic drug manufactures from countries like India and will enable EAC to continue developing regional production and supply of generic pharmaceutical products without hindrances from Patent owners.
Kenya Property Developers Association (KPDA) Chairman,Dr .Kamamia wa Murichu says Knowledge is the source of economic self determination and human dignity; production of knowledge is fast becoming a vital component of the global economy and that IPRS have become valuable commodities in commerce as they can be used in business transactions.
He added that Legal and administrative mechanisms exist for IP Protection in Kenya and that laws were recently amended to conform to TRIPs Agreement since Kenya is considered a developing country.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established by the Marrakesh Agreement (“the WTO Agreement”) of 15th April 1994 that entered into force on 1st January 1995.
Main scope of the WTO is to provide the common institutional framework for the conduct of trade relations among its Members.