African Trade Bloc To Lobby United States, Pharmaceutical Firms for Right To Produce Generic Antiretrovirals
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Africa's major free trade bloc, plans to lobby the United States and pharmaceutical companies for the right to produce generic antiretroviral drugs, according to the group's secretary general, Reuters reports. COMESA Secretary-General Erastus Mwencha said that patent disputes in the World Trade Organization are "robbing the region of a key weapon against AIDS," according to Reuters. He added that the United States and pharmaceutical companies are "arguing that allowing us to manufacture drugs as generics will kill incentives for their scientists ... they are insisting on recovering costs, but we are looking at the issue as a public health problem" (Shacinda, Reuters, 6/12). WTO talks over generic drug access have been stalled since members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement. U.S. negotiators in February refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration to allow developing nations to override patent protections to produce or import generic versions of drugs to combat public health epidemics unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/13). Mwencha said that COMESA will lobby for the right to produce generics at the next round of WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico, in September and at a WTO meeting next month in Geneva, according to Reuters. At the Geneva meeting, Mwencha said that COMESA will address concerns that generic drugs produced in Africa could be smuggled to Europe. "We will check any abuse as their concerns are genuine and we fully appreciate them ... there will be a mechanism to ensure drugs only circulate within the COMESA region," Mwencha said. The COMESA bloc has a population of 380 million, a GDP of $170 million and more than 20 million people living with HIV/AIDS, according to Reuters (Reuters, 6/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.