Activists in Kenya are seeking ways to reverse a new law which they say blocks the importation and local manufacture of much-needed cheaper, generic AIDS drugs.
Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper sounded the alarm on 1 July, saying 2.4 million Kenyans suffering from HIV/AIDS were unlikely to get access to generic varieties of antiretroviral drugs following an amendment to the Industrial Property Act (IPA).
The amendment, which came into effect on 7 June, allows the importation of patented drugs, but disallows the importation of generic varieties, including key antiretrovirals, without the "express consent" of the patent holder, the newspaper said.
Eva Ombaka, who works for the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network - a member of the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines - told IRIN on Monday that the coalition was now rethinking its strategies and looking for new options that could still offer hope for access to the essential medicines.
"It is quite unfortunate," she said. "Now we are almost back to the beginning. We need to look for other alternatives, other possibilities."
The new requirement is technically possible but does not work in practice, mainly because pharmaceutical companies are unhappy with the use of generic drugs for HIV/AIDS treatment, Robert Letington, the coalition's lawyer, told IRIN.
"All government ministers have been on record saying the aim of the new law was to allow the importation of cheaper generic drugs," he said. "But this is the very thing that they have taken away." Trade Minister Nicholas Biwott has, however, promised to seek the reversal of the amendments, according to the local media.
Kenya's debate on the controversial IPA amendment is taking place against the backdrop of the 14th International Aids Conference which started in Barcelona, Spain on Monday.
The group, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which is leading the campaign for access to AIDS treatment in Kenya, accused wealthy nations of "willful neglect" which was costing millions of lives.
In a statement released on Sunday, MSF said many of the rich nations had failed to deliver on their promise to fund the fight against HIV/AIDS and lower the cost of antiretroviral drugs.