[Ip-health] South Africa’s patent laws threaten access to future COVID-19 medicines

Lotti Rutter lotti at healthgap.org
Sun May 17 22:51:59 PDT 2020

**Apologies for cross posting**



*Twitter <https://twitter.com/FixPatentLaw>* | *Facebook

*Johannesburg, 18th May* — In a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa
published today
the Fix the Patent Laws (FTPL) coalition outlined major concerns about
South Africa’s ability to access future treatments or vaccines for
COVID-19. They point out that the country’s outdated patent laws ensure
that when effective treatments become available, they will likely be too
expensive and remain inaccessible to those in need.

Made up of 40 patient groups and civil society organisations, the FTPL
coalition wrote to President Ramaphosa in both his capacity as President of
South Africa and Chairperson of the National Command Council on COVID-19.
The letter highlighted the pandemic has seen an unprecedented scale and
speed of research and development (R&D) to find diagnostics, treatments and
a vaccine for COVID-19. However, the coalition also pointed out that unless
treatments actually get into the hands of the people who need them, and a
vaccine is widely rolled out to prevent further infection, this R&D will
not help us.

“The country is rightly in a national state of disaster, responding to
COVID-19. However, if we do not also fix our patent laws to ensure that
people can access new treatments or vaccines after they are proven
effective, we will find ourselves in a second emergency. It will mean that
far more people will continue to get sick with COVID-19 and possibly die,”
said Sibongile Tshabalala, from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). “We
lost thousands of comrades and friends because they couldn’t access the HIV
medicines they needed due to high prices driven by unwarranted patent
monopolies. Let us not make the same mistake again.”

Two years ago, Cabinet adopted the South African Policy on Intellectual
Property, Phase 1
that contained important commitments to reform the country’s patent laws to
prioritise people’s constitutionally guaranteed right of access to
healthcare services. It paves the way for a new, progressive intellectual
property regime in South Africa, almost two decades after the signing of
the Doha Declaration on Public Health—a critical international agreement
confirming countries’ ability to amend their laws to incorporate pro-public
health safeguards.

“The time is now to finalise the patent law reform process—we cannot wait
any longer. The draft legislation, primarily the amendments to the Patents
Act, should be released for public comment immediately and quickly
promulgated into law. The IP Policy recommended multiple reforms to the law
aimed at protecting public health. This is needed now more than ever to
address the COVID- 19 pandemic and to ensure that everyone has equal access
to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, when they become available,” said
Umunyana Rugege, from SECTION27.

Other countries have long ago incorporated these public health safeguards
into national law. Some countries like Brazil, Spain, Israel, Germany and
Canada are now taking steps to override patents and other exclusive rights
in anticipation of ensuring the accessibility of future COVID-19-related
health products—including diagnostics, vaccines, treatments, medical
devices, and personal protective equipment. Not only will these steps allow
countries to avoid high prices, they will also allow countries to expand
sources of supply, including through domestic manufacturing to help
overcome preferential access and hoarding by rich countries to lifesaving
COVID-19 health products.

The FTPL coalition letter urged the government to follow this progressive
path by putting in place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of patents
on all COVID-19-related health products, and instituting an automatic
compulsory licensing mechanism to ensure access to products that have
already been granted patents, or that are pending.

“Whilst COVID-19 highlights the urgency of securing affordable access to
medicines and vaccines, this is only one disease amongst many. People
across the country suffering from diseases ranging from cancer and TB, to
epilepsy, to mental illness are all affected by similar access problems as
a result of patent barriers. It is the widespread nature of this issue that
makes the finalising of patent law reforms all the more urgent,” said Lotti
Rutter, from Health GAP.


*For more information and to arrange interviews contact:*

Lotti Rutter | lotti at healthap.org | +27 82 065 5842

Ntsiki Mpulo | mpulo at section27.org.za | +27 82 782 7143

Ngqabutho Mpofu | ngqabutho.mpofu at tac.org.za | +27 72 225 9675


*www.fixthepatentlaws.org* <https://www.fixthepatentlaws.org/>

The letter to President Ramaphosa can be accessed here:

*Fix the Patent Laws is a joint coalition made up of 40 organisations
including*: the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Doctors Without Borders
(MSF), SECTION27, Cape Mental Health (CMH), Diabetes SA, Epilepsy SA,
Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), Marie Stopes South Africa, the
Stop Stock Outs Project (SSP), the Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders
Alliance (SABDA), the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG),
the South African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH), the South African
Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD Alliance) and the Cancer Alliance
including: Advocates for Breast Cancer, amaBele Project Flamingo, Ari’s
Cancer Foundation, Breast Course 4 Nurses (BCN), Breast Health Foundation
(BHF), Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Cancer Heroes,
CanSurvive Cancer Support (CanSurvive), Care for Cancer Foundation,
Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), Gladiators of Hope,
Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), Lymphoedema Association of
South Africa (LAOSA), Look Good Feel Better (LGFB), Love Your Nuts (LYN),
Men’s Foundation, National Council Against Smoking, National Oncology
Nursing Society of SA (NONSA), People Living With Cancer (PLWC), the Pink
Parasol Project, Pink Trees for Pauline (Pink Trees), Rainbows and Smiles,
Reach for Recovery (R4R), South African Oncology Social Workers’ Forum
(SAOSWF), The Sunflower Fund (TSF), and Wings of Hope (WoH).

*Lotti Rutter*
Associate Director
International Policy & Advocacy
Health GAP

Cell: +27 82 065 5842 (South Africa)
Phone: +1 347 263 8438 x104 (US)
Twitter: @HealthGAP @lottirutter
Skype: lotti.rutter

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