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By Henry Zakumumpa

August 17, 2011

Thousands of people enrolled on antiretroviral treatment in Uganda risk early death unless a grace period placed on the manufacture of generic drugs imposed under Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), an international trade law, is extended.

The critically important Industrial Properties Bill, which makes provision for exercising the flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement, including extending the grace period of manufacturing generic drugs, has been shelved by the Ugandan national parliament, putting the lives of thousands of Uganda at grave risk come 2016.

Generic drugs refer to medicines manufactured by pharmaceutical companies who are not the original manufacturers. Under the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s TRIPS agreement, to which Uganda is a signatory, poor countries were given a transitional period to manufacture HIV drugs using the original formulas of mainly Western pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Smith Kline Beecham.

For developing countries such as India, the ban on the manufacture of generic HIV drugs came into force in 2005 under the TRIPS agreement of the WTO, whereas a similar ban on poorer developing countries such as Uganda will take effect in 2016 unless Uganda passes a national law that allows for extension of this deadline. This includes drugs to treat HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

Denis Kibira of HEPS-Uganda,a health-rights advocacy NGO, says all HIV drugs used in Uganda are manufactured in-country or in India, under an international intellectual property law that permits drug manufacturers in developing countries to manufacture pharmaceutical products that imitate those originally made by Western pharmaceutical companies on account of public health emergencies.

In 2006, CIPLA, a prominent Indian pharmaceutical company, entered into a joint venture with Quality Chemicals of Uganda to manufacture generic drugs previously produced in India whose grace period under TRIPS regulations expired in 2005.

‘’Unless the Ugandan parliament passes the Industrial Properties Bill, which it has currently shelved, the permission to manufacture cheap generic ARV drugs will cease in 2016 with thousands affected since Quality Chemicals manufactures generic AIDS drugs’’ said Moses Mulumba, Executive Director of the Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), a healthcare access and advocacy NGO.

With the expiry of the TRIPS grace period, the alternative for Uganda will be to buy antiretrovirals (ARVs) from Western manufacturers at prices beyond the reach of the average Ugandan ARV user.

The process of reforming Ugandan laws to bring them in line with the TRIPS agreement started back in 2000 with the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Acts being enacted in 2006 and 2010 respectively.

According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, there are 135,000 new HIV infections in Uganda. This adds to the already rising number of those in need of ARV treatment. Currently, only half of those in need of ARV treatment in Ugandan have it.

The TRIPS agreement threatens to dramatically reverse the gains achieved in access to ARVs to pre-2004 levels where only a few paying patients could afford HIV treatment.

Source: KC team

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