Recent gains made in making HIV/AIDS treatment accessible and affordable to Kenyans are being threatened by a deal currently under discussion at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which would severely restrict access to such drugs, a group of local NGOs has warned.
ActionAid Kenya, EcoNews and Medecins Sans Frontieres on 14 February said the WTO meeting, convened in Tokyo, Japan, was negotiating a proposal to restrict use of compulsory licensing for many developing countries only to extreme national emergencies.
If adopted, this proposal would reverse the public health policy gains made under the Doha Declaration on TRIPS [trade related aspects of intellectual property rights] and Public Health in 2001 and could severely limit Kenya's access to affordable medicines, they said.
"Here in Kenya we have made great progress in decreasing the cost of drugs for many diseases - not just for HIV/AIDS, but for other major public health problems like pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases that kill thousands of Kenyans every year," ActionAid Kenya's Dr Christopher Ouma told journalists in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. "The cost of some life-saving drugs has been decreased by as much as half, but if this current proposal goes through at the WTO, all these gains will be lost," Ouma added.
Under the Doha Declaration, countries were authorised to issue compulsory licences to companies to manufacture affordable generic drugs needed for tackling public health problems such as HIV/AIDS. Countries which have no capacity to make such drugs were allowed to issue a compulsory licence system under which they could import drugs from elsewhere.
However, at the current discussions, certain members of the WTO, having bowed to pressure from industry, are trying to restrict the terms of the agreement and limit the use of
compulsory licensing to "national emergencies or other circumstances of extreme urgency", according to the statement.
This would mean that countries like Kenya with limited capacity to produce their own drugs would have to wait for public health problems to spin out of control before seeking solutions, the NGOs said.
They urged Kenyan negotiators to "strongly" reject the proposal. "Wealthy countries do not have to declare national emergencies to make use of TRIPS safeguards, so why should Kenya and other developing countries have to do so," Oduor Ong'wen, who runs EcoNews Africa, said.
"Will African countries have to declare tuberculosis or malaria a national emergency in order to get affordable drugs?" he asked.
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