Health activists at the rally. Photo: timeslive.co.za

Patients in dire need of cancer drugs and other medicines have protested the patent laws guiding the production of these medicines in some countries.

The patients who protested at a rally during the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, called for a review of the laws to increase access to these life-saving medicines.

According to one of the patient, Tobeka Dakis, the patent and intellectual property laws for local manufacturing of these drugs is frustrating their treatment.

She said, “I am one of the South African ladies who struggled to get Herceptin for my breast cancer. As a result, four months ago, I was diagnosed with bone cancer of the spine, and I am asking the panel to please help us get this drug, because chemotherapy alone cannot cure this type of breast cancer.”

In the last two weeks, the UN panel has held two global dialogues – in London and Johannesburg – to allow patients, experts, scientists and government officials to discuss the tensions between intellectual property laws and access to medicines and propose solutions.

Following a call for new ideas and potential solutions, the panel received 178 contributions from industry, government, civil society groups, multilateral organisations and academia.

To address these challenges, the co-director at the Project on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Suerie Moon, urged government to take financial responsibility for research and development to address some patent barriers.

She stated that this would reduce the cost of the drugs and also encourage patients to access them.

Moon said, “High prices mean that too many don’t have access to the medicines they need. This means we need another way to pay for research and development, and here’s where the important concept of delinkage is so central.

“Delinkage implies that we need to pay for R&D with public money. We need to demand a fair public return on public investment. This means no monopolies on medicines that are financed with public money. In order to realise this, we need to find a way to work together as a global community so that all governments will contribute fairly to developing research and development costs.”

The former President of Switzerland and co-chair of the panel, Ruth Dreifuss, said that the panel would deliberate and make recommendations from the contributions of stakeholders to review intellectual property laws on some medicines.

Dreifuss said, “ It is clear that we face a global problem, not just a problem of developing countries. We have heard from stakeholders about the good practices and experiences that we can build on. But, we cannot forget some of the limitations of these models and the need for new approaches. You can guarantee that we will use all these interventions as food for thought and action.”

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