AIDS Activists Urge Kenyan Parliament to Approve AIDS Drug Importation Bill
An international group of AIDS activists from the medical industry and nongovernmental organizations yesterday initiated a campaign to "pressure" Kenyan parliament members to approve a bill that would allow the country to import and manufacture cheaper AIDS drugs, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (Simmons, AP/Los Angeles Times, 5/11). At a press conference yesterday in Nairobi, the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines, a conglomerate of Kenyan and international organizations, urged members of parliament to "ensure that public health takes precedence over private financial interests and that essential medicines are affordable." The group also "warned" that unless Kenya is "allowed to make full use of" parallel importing and compulsory licensing, millions are at risk of death from HIV/AIDS (Doctors Without Borders release, 5/10). The bill would adhere to the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, which allows parallel importing and compulsory licensing if countries declare a health emergency. With an estimated 2.5 million HIV-positive citizens and 500 AIDS-related deaths per day, Kenya "faces an AIDS emergency," according to Samantha Bolton, a Nairobi-based spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders (Los Angeles Times, 5/11).
Pharmaceutical Industry Backs Off
In the wake of the abandonment of the South African lawsuit brought by 39 pharmaceutical companies that caused a years-long delay on the implementation of a similar South African law, AIDS advocates "expressed concern" that the pharmaceutical industry "might try to improperly influence lawmakers to kill or amend the bill." However, Newton Kulundu, chair of the parliament's Health Committee, "dismissed claims that legislators could be manipulated." GlaxoSmithKline, one of the companies involved in the South African lawsuit, said the company accepts Kenya's proposal but is "concerned about procedures for implementing it," GSK Commercial Director William Kiari said (Los Angeles Times, 5/11). According to industry sources in Kenya, representatives from GSK and Pfizer Laboratories had planned to meet with Kenyan MPs, but cancelled the meeting "at the last minute" following "adverse publicity" over the meeting. A Pfizer manager said, "There were a lot of obstacles put against the meeting because a misconception that we were lobbying for the dropping of the new ... [b]ill [made] the rounds and the whole thing had been inappropriately politicized." But the source "strenuously denied" allegations that the meeting was convened to pressure MPs to exclude provisions that would allow for parallel importing and compulsory licensing, saying that Pfizer accepts the bill (Morland, Agence France-Presse, 5/10). The parliament plans to vote on the bill upon return from its May recess (Los Angeles Times, 5/11).