South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, has in a strongly worded statement backed the minister of health Aaron Motsoaledi in his crusade against pharmaceutical companies who are said to be plotting to derail the country’s efforts to reform its Intellectual Property (IP) policy.
The ANC statement released today comes to pile up forces against pharmaceutical corporations in a battle that is bound to become long, hard and dirty. In its early stages the battle is already displaying the power of the corporation in ways best captured by Canadian legal theorist Joel Bakan in his book The Corporation. Bakan argues that the multinational corporation has become a self serving power, a pathological institution, a danger to democracy. This argument is well represented in the plan, reportedly drafted by an American lobbyist firm, Public Affairs Engagement (PAE) as a proposal of how pharmaceuticals can tackle South Africa’s IP laws reform process.
The ANC said its National Working Committee (NWC) is in full agreement with the Draft National Intellectual Property (IP) Policy Framework which has caused discomfort for multinational pharmaceuticals operating in South Africa.
The ANC said its NWC on the 20th January 2014 briefed by Motsoaledi. “The NWC is in full agreement with the policy as proposed and the outcomes intended with this policy namely, the lowering of the exorbitant cost of medicine in our country and as a consequence ensuring access by millions of our people to an efficient and accessible health care system,” said the ANC statement.
The statemment came after Motsoaledi is said to have written a scathing letter to the concerned pharmaceuticals, attacking an apparent plan to derail the process of reforming the country’s IP framework. Motsoaledi is reported to have used strong words, accusing the plot hatched by PAE of genocidal intentions.
Motsoaledi has received backing from various stakeholders including Doctors Without Borders. The organisation issued a statement this week saying “Doctors Without Borders, as part of the Fix the Patent Laws campaign, applauds South African health minister Aaron Motsoaledi for speaking out against a multinational pharmaceutical coalition and their intent to delay reforms of the country’s IP laws, through a deceptive internationally bankrolled lobbying campaign.”
Julia Hill of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) said “To have foreign companies spending R6m to dissuade government from pushing legislation that promotes access to more affordable medicines is outrageous. The minister is right to take a firm stand against pharmaceutical companies that seek to protect their profit margins at the expense of ordinary South Africans. The government is bringing national law in line with international norms, so they have the ability to take action when inflated prices put crucial medicines out of reach,”
The ANC added that “The National IP Policy will also advance our stated goal of ensuring that the public purse is also able to provide these crucial drugs for people living with HIV and AIDS and other prevalent diseases such as cancer and TB.”
“The National Working Committee condemned the attempted subverting of this IP Policy by certain pharmaceutical companies and their lobby group from America. It is the view of the NWC that the lobby group and its cohorts are only interested in maximizing their profits at the expense of quality and affordable healthcare for all our people both in the private and public sector.”
The ANC said “Their attempted blockade of this National IP Policy has no interest whatsoever in the people living with HIV and AIDS and other prevalent diseases in our country and the developing world as a whole. The NWC of the ANC therefore calls upon all South Africans to equally reject these American-inspired lobby pronouncements and campaigns against this progressive policy of our government. The National Working Committee will report on this matter to the forthcoming meeting of the National Executive Committee.
In its statement Medecins Sans Frontieres said the reform of South Africa’s IP laws is long overdue. “Today South Africa’s patent system already benefits international pharmaceutical companies by granting an excessive number of patents, compared to both developed and developing countries. South Africa remains a net importer of pharmaceutical products, to such an extent that it’s the 5th biggest contributor to our trade deficit. Changes to facilitate generic production would have a more positive economic benefit.”
“The draft IP policy includes reforms that are not radical. For instance, the proposed patent examination system would reward truly innovative patents and weed out frivolous applications,” said Hill.
Multinational drug makers in South Africa have distanced themselves from the PAE plan suggesting that it was an unsolicited proposal which they never entertained. These firms have communicated this view under an entity titled the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa.