NAIROBI, Kenya (IP-Watch) – A commitment signed this week to facilitate investment in Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is expected to boost the sector’s production and make available essential medicines for millions of needy people.
UNAIDS and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the African Union (AU), and the Kenyan and South African governments signed the pledge on 21 July, on the sidelines of the fourteen session of UNCTAD (UNCTAD-14), convened in Nairobi from July 17-22.
The commitment named Nairobi Statement on Investment in Access to Medicines aims at spurring, particularly, the manufacture of antiretroviral medicines in the continent worst affected by HIV and AIDS. It comes against a backdrop of decreasing donor funding in the sector, despite reports of new infections in adults in the continent.
“I am very happy that as we come to the end, we have some concrete as a deliverable to add to our success,” Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD general secretary, said at the launch of the commitment.
Kituyi said he hoped this commitment translates promises into action and countries will utilise the opening which connects public health with domestic industry to build productive capacities.
“There has to be concerted effort and the political will,” warned the general secretary.
Still, he warned the political will to stand to the assistance of those importing generics into the continent will be very strong.
“Other pharmaceutical players are very strong and have deep pockets to influence the signatures of the final bill,” he said.
Ms. Fatima Acyl, Commissioner for Trade and Industry at the African Union Commission, noted that the issue medicines is very critical for Africa.
“When you look at HIV and AIDS 60 per cent of the infected people are in Africa, yet we import 80 per cent of the antiretroviral. This is not sustainable. We need to produce our own medicines, generic medicine for our people,” said Acyl in a short interview after the launch.
She told the launch that the success of the sector requires more than the health and industry sector, and includes policy issues related to trade, investment and intellectual property.
“While substantive progress is being made in health, trade, investment and intellectual property as individual sectors, a significant degree of coherence at the policy level across these sectors was essential for the continent to reap maximum benefits of a viable pharmaceutical industry,” said Acyl.
The commitment is in line with the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number three on health, which emphasises access to essential medicines for all, number nine on innovation. and domestic technology development and number 17 on international cooperation and policy coherence.
“We emphasize the importance of coherence among African domestic policies related to health, investment, trade, technology and intellectual property and the importance of integrating markets, and invite the Governments of the African Union Member States and other UN agencies to join us in this commitment,” the commitment says.
It notes that the SDGs set an ambitious series of targets for UN member states which require considerable investment, particularly within Africa. It highlights the AU Agenda 2063 for the structural transformation of the continent, which it says requires the development of African productive capacities through private sector engagement and development.
It observes that 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development underlines the importance of aligning private investment with sustainable development, while stating that public policies need to provide a competitive environment that encourages the private sector.
Nearly 15 years ago, UNCTAD established the programme on access to essential medicines for the least developed countries and it started with idea of flexibilities in the World Trade Organization Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), according James Zhan, director of the Division on Investment and Enterprise at UNCTAD.
“The thinking then was that there could be a transition for the least developed countries (LDCs) using flexibility to build their production capacities,” said Zhan.
“Lack of production capacities is a constraint for developing countries and LDCs to benefit from TRIPS flexibilities,” added Zhan.
This was the starting point, according to the official, on how the UN agency could build the productive capacities in developing countries and LDCs so that they could produce essential medicines.
The challenge is how to move from decision to action and to translate political commitments into concrete action in the field, Zhan said. He also highlighted a good political will and an SDG on health.
“We see this as important for coherence of policies among the areas of investments, trade procurement, intellectual property rights, trade regulation and international support,” he said.
In a speech read on his behalf, Mr. Michael Sidibe, UNAIDS executive director warned that African countries will not meet the SDGs and the target for eliminating HIV by 2030, unless they can consistently secure affordable quality assured medicines and other health related commodities for everyone in need.
“This is a health and development priority. The future of the continent is at stake. More than half of all Africans are under 25 years of age, and we must enable them to live long, healthy, productive lives to make the most of this incredible asset. It will be a massive challenge with a giant return,” said Abdoul Dieng, chief, policy coordination and programme communication, UNAIDS, who delivered the speech.
Africa currently imports more than 90% of its generic antiretroviral medicines, the official said, relying on two companies in India for more than 70% of those drugs.
“There is clearly an opportunity to boost Africa’s domestic manufacture of medicines and other health commodities, both for treating and preventing chronic diseases including HIV,” said Dieng.
Against a perception that Africa is not able to produce quality assured and safe medical products, Mr. Cleopa Mailu, Kenya Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Health said there was a need to recognise that individual county economies were small and without international support they could sustain a pharmaceutical industry.
“We need to realise without working together and pulling together through regional cooperation and blocks, we may not sustain an industry against the competition of low priced generic drugs,” said Mailu.
South Africa is a bright case, having the largest market in the continent for pharmaceuticals with total value is 4 billion US dollars, according to Dr. Rob Davis, the Minister of Trade and Industry in South Africa, but the country is also the biggest challenge and largest programme of provision of antiretroviral.
On intellectual property, the nation is in the process of establishing a consultative framework.
“I think it’s looking into a number of area of the intellectual property – one of them looking to try to avoid registration of evergreen products, not just in the pharmaceutical sector, but we are going to be starting there. I think we need to get an appropriate balance, said Davis. “We want to encourage patent manufacturer.”
Source: Intellectual Property Watch