warchi /
1 June 2018Africa

MSF welcomes South Africa’s new patent policy

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has welcomed the South African government’s release of a new IP policy, calling it an effort to take off a “patent blindfold”.

Earlier this week, the government released the official policy, which is aimed at advancing South Africa’s socio-economic development objectives. Phase one of the policy will focus on public health.

One of the key reforms is the introduction of a substantive search and examination (SSE) framework for patents. The government said this is a key step “towards ensuring that the patent regime fulfils its purpose of stimulating genuine innovation”.

According to the document, the reform will benefit the public by ensuring that market exclusivity is granted only when appropriate and will benefit patent owners by granting them “rigorously assessed rights”.

The SSE will not only apply in the health sphere—it will eventually have a much broader application. The initial fields of focus will be determined by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Intellectual Property, which will continue to be the forum that will oversee the IP policy’s development.

MSF said that currently, South African patent law allows pharmaceutical companies to obtain multiple “undeserved” patents on a single drug easily and then charge people exorbitant prices.

The non-governmental organisation claimed that South Africa has one of the highest burdens of tuberculosis (TB) and drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in the world, yet high prices have limited people’s access to several key TB drugs.

“Two key newer drugs for treating DR-TB, bedaquiline and delamanid, have also faced the same fate, with both already patented multiple times in South Africa, extending their patent terms beyond 20 years,” said MSF.

The new policy is in line with TRIPS, which allows countries to amend their patent laws to incorporate public health safeguards.

MSF explained that the new policy wouldn’t have been possible without the collective efforts of the Fix the Patent Laws (FTPL) campaign, a local coalition of South African civil society organisations which advocated for patent law reform.

Salome Meyer, of the Cancer Alliance, one of the members of the FTPL campaign, said: “Now our focus will be to ensure that the policy is quickly turned into law and implemented properly. We must put a stop now to people’s struggles to afford the medicines that they need.”

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