Nairobi, 14 June 2001 — The Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines* today hailed the passing of the Kenya Industrial Property Bill 2001 as a victory for patient rights over patent protection. In a landmark decision for developing countries, the Kenya Parliament yesterday completed the final reading of the Industrial Property Bill 2001 (IP Bill), which will allow Kenya to import and to produce more affordable medicines for HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
“Now patient rights have won over patent protection, first in the courts of South Africa and now in the Parliament of Kenya. A precedent has been set for developing countries,” said Indra van Gisbergen, lawyer and access to essential medicines campaigner for Médecins Sans Frontières in Kenya. “The battle for affordable medicines has been won in Parliament, but now the Kenya government must have the courage to put these laws into practice and to issue compulsory licenses to import and produce affordable generic medicines,” Van Gisbergen concluded on behalf of the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines.
After over one year of consultations with various stake-holders and experts, and despite reported pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to weaken the IP Bill, the Kenya parliament approved a WTO/TRIPS compliant Industrial Property Bill 2001, which includes most of the WHO recommended ‘safeguards’. These include parallel importing (the right to shop around the world for the cheapest patented drug): compulsory licenses (issuing licenses for the production or importation of cheaper generic medicines - the new Kenya IP Bill specifically mentions high drug prices as a ground for issuing compulsory licenses), and the ‘Bolar provision’ which allows generic manufacturers to do the appropriate trials, registration process etc, to be ready to roll off the production line as soon as the patent expires.
The deadline for developing and least developed countries to amend the laws to make them WTO/TRIPS compliant; is 2000 and 2006 respectively. Kenya and South Africa have set a precedent for developing countries to stand up to industry and to have the courage to include the recommended safeguards in their laws. To ensure competitive prices and to bring affordable medicines to those who need them most, the challenge for all developing countries; including Kenya and South Africa, is to urgently issue compulsory licenses for the production and importation of generic medicines for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.
In Kenya, it is estimated that around 2.3 million adults are living with HIV and 700 people die per day of HIV related infections. What has become a chronic disease in Europe and America where patients are treated, reducing mortality by 80%, remains a deadly plague in Africa. One of the key factors why people continue to die of AIDS is that anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and other essential medicines are too expensive: Only 1-2000 people are estimated to be undergoing treatment in Kenya.
* The Kenya Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines includes: Action Aid, The Association of People living with AIDS in Kenya (TAPWAK); Health Action International (HAI Africa); Network for people living with HIV/AIDS (NEPHAK); Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK); Society for Woman and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK); Nyumbani; International Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA); CARE International; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); DACASA; Pharmaciens Sans Frontières (PSF); Kenya Medical Association (KMA); Consumer Information Network; Campaigners for AIDS Free Society.