The Society of African Missions supports the right to medicines for all, particularly the availability of affordable good quality medicines for African countries.

In line with the social teaching of the Church SMA Missionaries promote and support the provision of good health care. In the Parishes and Dioceses where they work SMA’s witness first-hand the negative effect created by the lack of affordable and good quality medicines for HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other treatable diseases.

Essential Medicines
as defined by the World Health Organization are “those drugs that satisfy the health care needs of the majority of the population. They should therefore be available at all times in adequate amounts and in appropriate dosage forms, at a price the community can afford.”
Intellectual Property Rights
Are the rights that creators have to prevent others from using their inventions.  They can be in the form of copyrights, trademarks or patents.
Generic Drugs
A generic drug is a legitimately produced medicine that is the same as the original brand name product – it contains the same active ingredients but is not made by the company that first developed, marketed and often patented the drug. Because generics are in general a lot cheaper than patented products, they have played a huge role in making sure people actually have access to essential medicines in the developing world.
(- Medicines Sans Frontiers)
supporting the view of the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), believes that:
The Human Right to Health takes precedence over Intellectual Property Rights.The freedom of less developed countries to care for the health of their populations should not be limited by adherence to international agreements like TRIPS when their provisions, such as the universal adoption of patents, are detrimental to the realization of the right to health.
God of Love lay your healing hand on all who are sick and most abandoned.
Touch the hearts of those in positions of power so that they may use their power to ensure a fairer sharing of quality medicines that can bring healing.
 Bless the efforts made in advocacy on behalf of people in poorer countries who cannot afford to buy medicines they need.
We ask this in Jesus, Our Healer and Saviour.  Amen.

is recognised in international law and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Implicit in this is the right to have access to Essential Medicines.  Millions of people do not enjoy this right.   About 33% of the world’s population does not have access to basic drugs, a proportion that rises above 50% in the some regions of Africa and Asia.  For more in dept Background information on the issue of Medicines click here (link to  “background to the issue of medicine

One of the main reasons for the lack of access to medicines is the high cost charged by producers. This in turn is the result of Patents used by Pharmaceutical Companies to protect their “Intellectual Property Rights” (IPR’s) over the drugs they develop.  These patents, which can last for up to twenty years prevent the production of affordable generic versions of essential drugs.  This in affect gives the pharmaceutical company concerned a monopoly on the drug and the ability to maintain high retail costs.

In 1995, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) established the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – read more here 

This defined the minimum standards for a set of Intellectual Property Rights including those affecting pharmaceuticals which WTO members must incorporate into their national legislation.  In effect TRIPS would mean that all WTO member states would have to recognise patents on medicines and not manufacture or import cheaper generic drugs.

In theory the TRIPS agreement did allow some flexibility for governments of poorer countries to use cheaper drugs in spite of patents.  However in practice this was not the case.  In an effort to address this situation a WTO meeting held in Doha in 2001 declared and affirmed a country’s “sovereign right to take measures to protect public health.”  In other words this statement reaffirmed the ability of TRIPS member states to circumvent patent rights in order to access essential medicines.

Since Doha however, some Western members of the WTO have attacked both the spirit and the intent of this Declaration, putting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry before the health of the world’s poor.  Even though a subsequent measure in 2003 does, in theory, allow producer countries to export medicines under license to countries not able to manufacture them, the regulations and requirements around this are so complicated as to make it almost unworkable. Overall efforts to reach collaboration with pharmaceutical companies to provide access to affordable essential medicines in developing countries have to a large extent failed.  The TRIPS agreement has also had the effect of spreading patent protection to countries that produce generic versions of drugs e.g. India – thus reducing even further the availability of affordable drugs.

The TRIPS Agreement established by the World Trade Organisation in 1995 has, in spite of efforts to make it more flexible in practice, protected the monopolies and profits of pharmaceutical corporations.  At the same time it has, in effect, prevented the availability of affordable medicines in African and Asian countries.

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