[Ip-health] Gichinga Ndirangu's analysis of the African proposal to WIPO SCP on patents and health
thiru at keionline.org
thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 20 05:52:05 PDT 2011
African Group Proposal must help unlock the gridlock on the Doha
declaration on public health
This week in Geneva, the Standing Committee on Patents established by
the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) met to deliberate
on among other things, a proposal submitted by the African Group on
TRIPS and Public Health.
It is welcome that that debate is taking place now and one must
commend the African Group for putting together a very comprehensive
proposal that provides the building blocks to further and more
informed consideration on this matter.
There has been a discernible sense of fatigue and inertia over the
Doha round on the whole. In large part, the lack of political will has
been much to blame as is the asymmetry that defines the beacons of
many aspects of this round that continues to polarize least developed
and developing countries on the one hand and their developed country
counterparts on the other.
But that is only part of the story and there have been other problems
less explicit but nevertheless manifest and which have undermined
progress. Take the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health as an
When it was first unveiled, it generated tremendous promise and
expectation as a welcome solution to enabling access to more
affordable medicines especially for those countries facing the public
health challenge of a heavy disease burden. But so far, this
declaration has been short on delivery. In large part, it has remained
cumbersome and difficult to implement and over time ? given the
limited movement ? a sense of foreboding has replaced the hope and
optimism that came with its adoption.
It is within this context that the latest proposal by the African
Group, presents fresh hope. The proposal has the capacity to unlock
the problematic elements on implementation of the declaration and
hopefully renew a sense of momentum, if not urgency, in reopening
fresh impetus. That has been lacking for so long and if backed by
political will, would assure progress.
The African Group proposal must be seen as one that represents
opportunity in advancing the public health agenda; one which could
inform negotiators in other multilateral fora, in particular, the
World Trade Organisation (WTO).
As noted, there has been a redoubtable sense of fatigue and inertia in
unblocking the obstacles to the Doha declaration on TRIPS and Public
Health. Paralysis can lead to inaction which is why any new fresh
ideas such as those presented in the African Group proposal are useful
in renewing the sense of urgency and impetus for action.
It is important that WIPO remains fully engaged. As the premier and
flagship entity mandated to deal with Intellectual Property Rights,
WIPO must increasingly take an enabling leadership role. That role
must be guided by support for proposals that protect public health and
advance public interest.
While one may not necessarily speak of a pecking order and the
pre-eminence of WIPO on IP issues, it presents an important platform
and it is must seize the moment to ensure informed and enlightened
debate in other multilateral fora on the public health debate.
While it is important that discussions on TRIPS and public health are
not challenged by parallel discussions within complimentary
institutions, such discussions must be seen as complimentary and
geared towards advancing the overall goal of public health. Developing
countries and health activists who stand to gain the most from a
clearer and less ambiguous framework deserve and demand more, not less.
Public health remains the archilles heel of the TRIPS agreement
because the good intent that generated much hope has faced mixed,
uneven and uncertain progress. Countries that have tried to use this
declaration such as Canada have found it difficult, cumbersome and in
large part, impractical. Like the proverbial road to hell that is
paved with good intentions, the declaration represents lost opportunity.
One hopes that through the latest African Group proposal, the WIPO
Standing Committee on Patents will help us recover lost ground and
address the challenges that the multilateral framework presents in
protecting and promoting access to more affordable medicines.
[i] Gichinga Ndirangu is the Regional Co-ordinator, Health Action
International (HAI) Africa
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