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IRIN Examines Intellectual Property Protection In South Africa

IRIN examines how patents and intellectual property protection in South Africa affects patients’ access to medicines. “A form of intellectual property protection, patents are typically awarded to companies that can prove their product is new,” IRIN writes, adding, “Not so in South Africa, say activists and researchers, who claim the country’s patent system allows pharmaceutical companies to apply for new patents on existing drugs based on immaterial changes — like adding table salt to a formulation or changing a pill’s color.” The news service continues, “While pharmaceutical companies cash in, patients face staggering health care costs, and medicines like cancer treatments, third-line antiretrovirals (ARVs) and treatments for drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) are often priced out of reach.”

“According to activists from Medecins Sans Frontieres’s (MSF) Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines and the South Africa AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), easy patents mean companies can extend their exclusive right to manufacture and sell certain drugs, a process known as evergreening,” IRIN writes. “With competition eliminated, drug prices stay high — often out of reach of South African patients, activists argue,” the news service adds and highlights third-line ARVs and one of the few drugs available to treat multi-drug resistant TB, linezolid, as examples. “The country is preparing a new draft policy on intellectual property, so now is the time to fix the patent laws that allow for these high prices, said Vuyiseka Dubula, TAC’s secretary general,” IRIN notes, adding, “The [Department of Trade and Industry’s] draft of the new intellectual property policy is set to be submitted to the cabinet on 5 December” (11/5).