By Patrick Jaramogi
The grace period granted to developing countries to enforce patents on pharmaceutical products under the multilateral agreement on Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) expires in January 2016.
With technological innovation and adaptation in East Africa’s nascent pharmaceutical industry remaining sluggish, patents on pharmaceutical products will not only undermine the viability of pharmaceutical production in the region, but also compromise sustainable access to essential medicines.
Seemingly civil rights activists led by Center for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Health Gap, HEPS Uganda, CHAIN and the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiation Institute (SEATINI) Uganda have petitioned the US government ahead of tomorrows (Wednesday) October 28 informal talks in Geneva requesting that the United States reverts its position.
The Civil society criticized the US government for its efforts to obstruct the 34 developing countries in the world from securing an exemption from protection and enforcement of patents and other forms of intellectual property rights from pharmaceuticals, for as long as they remain LDCs. Civil society argues that the US government approach to essential medicines sharply contradicts what it preaches under the PEFFAR programs.
“The US should stop blocking Uganda’s access to affordable medicines. The US government negotiators are demanding a time-limited, 10 year extension. 10 years is nothing,” said Moses Mulumba the executive director Center for Health Human Rights and Development at a press conference held at their offices in Ntinda on Tuesday.
Joy Agasira a program officer at CEHURD noted that government of Uganda has played a key role in championing this request by LDCs, along with governments of Nepal and Bangladesh who are spearheading the negotiations before the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
Martin Luther Munnu from SEATINI observed that negotiations have reached an impasse and there is risk that the LDCs will be forced to accept the demands of the US. “Under the trade aspects of the WTO, there must be a provision for free and fair treatment during negotiations. The problem is that the challenges the poor countries face can’t be resolved in the 10 years,” said Munnu.
Kenneth Mwehonge from HEPS Uganda is the US is on the wrong side of this battle. “From a human rights perspective, and from a public health perspective, President Obama’s government is on the wrong side,” he said.
Primah Kwagala, a lawyer at CEHURD, urged the US government to prioritize life before profits.
Asia Russell, a health consultant at Health Gap, said Uganda is leading the way among LDCs in pushing for a permanent waiver on the introduction of patents on medicines--allowing the government and industry to focus seriously on production and supply of low cost generic medicines.
Uganda petitions US on access to affordable medicines