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.
Intellectual Property Rights
THE RIGHT TO HEALTH
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
ACCESS TO MEDICINES
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.