Kenyan AIDS Activists Try to Remove Barrier to Generic Drug Importation Before Parliament Recesses
Kenyan AIDS activists yesterday lobbied to remove an amendment to the Industrial Property Act that would make it more difficult to import generic versions of patented AIDS medications, Agence France-Presse reports. The Kenya Parliament, which is now recessed until October, last year passed the IPA, which was supposed to ease the importation of generic drugs. However, on June 7, five weeks after the IPA went into effect, the law was amended to state that the approval of the patent holder is required before importation can proceed. The amendment was "buried among scores of other technical legislative alterations" at a time when "most of the parliamentary health committee was out of the country," Agence France-Presse reports. According to Wyger Wentholt, spokesperson for Medecins Sans Frontieres, the changes "make it virtually impossible" to import generic antiretroviral drugs. The only legal recourse activists have is to seek a special importation license from the government, which is "very hard to come by" and is available only to not-for-profit groups, he said, adding, "We are back to square one."
Allegations of Drug Company Pressure
Sources at the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines said that the last-minute amendment was offered "at the behest" of a major drug maker that did not want to lose patent protection. According to Agence France-Presse, before the law went into effect on May 1, the law firm of Kaplan and Stratton wrote to the Industrial Property Office and the attorney general's office to point out an "important error" in the bill on behalf of an unnamed client. That letter said that it was "essential" that the law be amended "as quickly as possible" to require the permission of the patent holder, in accordance with the interests of the law firm's client. Although the identity of the client is not certain, Agence France-Presse reports that Kaplan and Stratton is retained by GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures several antiretroviral medications. Andrew Bulloch, GSK's general manager in Kenya, said that the company has "made no representation at all to any law firm" regarding the IPA. He added, "Generic drugs are being imported anyway ... Our patents aren't worth the paper they are written on" (Agence France-Presse, 8/13).