[Ip-health] Leading SA Cancer group joins Fix The Patent Laws campaign

Elizabeth Rajasingh elizabeth.rajasingh at keionline.org
Thu Feb 5 06:26:10 PST 2015


*People Living with Cancer join the Fix the Patent Laws Campaign*

THURSDAY 5th FEBRUARY, CAPE TOWN: Yesterday, on World Cancer Day , People
Living With Cancer – a South African support group representing thousands
of patients – publically signed on to support the Fix the Patent Laws
campaign. The campaign aims to ensure access to affordable medicines for
all people living in South Africa including those affected by cancer. The
campaign was started in November 2011 by the Treatment Action Campaign,
Doctors without Borders and SECTION27.

“Often the price tags on cancer drugs in this country are unacceptably
high. Newer, more effective medicines can be so expensive that sometimes
they are completely unavailable to patients in the public sector,” said
Linda Greef of People Living With Cancer. “Even private medical aid schemes
can refuse to cover the medicine in fullbecause it would raise premiums for
all members. The lucky ones are forced to pay out of pocket or battle with
medical aid schemes to get access to the right drugs. Others are simply
unable to access the medicines that would save or extend their lives.”

Cancer medicines, as with many other medicines in South Africa, are often
priced out of reach due to patent barriers. Patents restrict competitors
from entering the market, meaning patent holding companies can set the
prices arbitrarily high in order to maximise profits. This means
life-saving medicines often remain inaccessible to those in need. Whilst
other countries, like India and Argentina, use the safeguards outlined in
international law to limit the number of poor quality patents granted,
South Africa has yet to change its laws and policy to adopt these legal

“In South Africa, we grant an excessive number of patents on medicines,”
said Nkhensani Mavasa, National Chairperson of the Treatment Action
Campaign (TAC). “We don’t examine patent applications to ensure they meet
our criteria for what is deserving of a patent. This allows pharmaceutical
companies to get multiple patents on the same medicine by making small
changes, even when such changes have no benefit for patients. What it
really means is that prices remain unaffordable for longer and people are

Latest figures show that 1 in 29 women develop breast cancer in South
Africa. Trastuzumab is an effective treatment for early stage patients yet
currently it costsapproximately R535 860 to treat a patient for a year in
South Africa. This is more expensive than several high-income countries,
including Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom. A potential competitor
suggested that the drug could be manufactured for as little as R2 773 per
year. While the government is in discussions with Roche to bring down the
price, a more affordable version of trastuzumab is unlikely to be available
in South Africa in the near future.

The problem with the price of cancer medicines is not just affecting South
Africa. Even developed countries like the UK have rejected certain
medicines based on their lack of affordability for the National Health
Service. Since 2011, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
(NICE), the UK cost watchdog, rejected the inclusion of at least seven
cancer drugs for use within the National Health Service as they were priced
too high to be cost effective.

“We are proud to publicly support the fix the patent laws campaign,” Greef
said. “The government must urgently fix the patent laws to allow us to
access the best medicines at prices that are affordable in this country.
The lives of so many people affected by cancer, and many other diseases,
depend on it.”

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Lotti Rutter (TAC) // lotti.rutter at tac.org.za // 081 818 8493

Kate Ribet (MSF) // kate.ribet at joburg.msf.org // 07987 22950
Linda Greef // linda.greeff at cancerbuddies.org.za. 0824413310

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
launched the ‘Fix the patent laws’ campaign on November 11 2011 – the
ten-year anniversary of the WTO’s Doha Declaration on TRIPS and public
health. The campaign aims to draw attention to problems with South Africa’s
national patent laws that negatively impact upon access to affordable

Elizabeth Rajasingh
Perls Fellow, Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009
*elizabeth.rajasingh at keionline.org <elizabeth.rajasingh at keionline.org>* |

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