[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

Gichinga  Ndirangu[i]

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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