Saturday, January 18, 2014

South Africa V Big Pharma

South Africa slammed global drug firms over a covert campaign against its planned overhaul of intellectual property laws to favor cheaper generic drugs. It is not the first time drugmakers have clashed with Pretoria. A decade ago the industry was forced to climb down in a bruising battle with South Africa over AIDS drugs patents and access to generics.

The latest fight reflects tension between an industry that wants to protect its intellectual property, even as it pushes further into emerging markets, and governments from India to Brazil that are determined to increase patients' access to life-saving treatments. South Africa is in the final stages of implementing a new law that would allow generic drugmakers to produce cut-price copies of patented medicines and make it harder for firms to register and roll over patents. The policy would close a loophole known as "ever-greening" that allows a drugmaker to make minor changes to an existing drug or discover a new use for it, and then register it as a totally new find. Under current South African IP law, pharmaceutical companies are able to register drugs as new without being checked.

Pharmaceutical giants have drawn up a $600,000 publicity campaign to mobilize local and overseas opposition to the intellectual property changes. Prepared by U.S. consultancy Public Affairs Engagement for industry lobby Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (IPASA)  it outlines a plan to delay the reform at least until after South Africa's elections in early May by suggesting the new law would be politically damaging. It threatens that the drug companies would “take action by reducing investment”. IPASA members include Sanofi, Baxter International, Pfizer and Novartis.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said  "This document can sentence many South Africans to death. This is a plan for genocide."

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