Patent protection and access to HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals in Sub-Saharan Africa

Patent protection and access to HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals in Sub-Saharan Africa

HIV and medical patents in Africa

This paper reviews the TRIPS patent and, in particular, those provisions relevant to the issue of pharmaceuticals and the patent situation in sub-Saharan Africa with regard to the protection of anti-retroviral HIV/AIDS drugs. Patent offices and pharmaceutical companies were surveyed to discover the extent to which anti-retroviral HIV/AIDS drugs were being patented. The report also includes country profiles that provide basic relevant information for each sub-Saharan country.

The report concludes that:

  • The TRIPS Agreement is not impeding access to medicines. It does not yet apply to the majority of sub-Saharan African countries, and where it does it permits sufficient flexibility for African countries to expand access to HIV/AIDS drugs where other critical elements are in place (health care infrastructure and financing).
  • The perception that patents are blocking access to HIV/AIDS drugs is overly simplistic and incorrect. Most anti-retroviral medications are not widely patented in Africa.
  • The lack of availability of HIV/AIDS medicines is the result of a wide and complex range of causes, primary amongst which is a lack of financial resources to fund the health care system in general.

Based on these conclusions the authors recommends:

  • WIPO should undertake a project to determine, definitively, the patent status of all HIV/AIDS medications in sub-Saharan Africa. This will place them in a good position to assist procurement efforts of governments, international organisations and other purchasers.
  • WIPO should use its advisory role to help change perceptions of TRIPS and stress the flexibility allowed within TRIPS to help tackle health crises. They should actively engage in the international debates on access to HIV/AIDS medicines with other intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.