Civil society representatives at the WHO Regional Committee for Africa warned that medical advances against HIV remain inaccessible to patients in developing countries because of high prices. Sub-saharan Africa, which bears a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic, remains most at risk.
The civil society representatives from HAI Africa, OXFAM and TB Action observed that an increasing number of essential medicines are being patented in developing countries and such patents were an obstacle to price reductions. This undermines access because high prices place medicines outside the reach of poor people and governments.
The group called on the multinational pharmaceutical companies to facilitate access to more affordable generic versions of patented medicines in return for reasonable royalty payments realised from the sale of such generics.
They favour use of the “patent pool” mechanism to enhance access to affordable medicines. This will help guarantee continued treatment for those currently on first line ARV medicines who need to change to second line ARVs – many of which are patented and bear extremely high price tags.
The “patent pool” is a voluntary mechanism proposed by UNITAID to catalyse the development of medicines currently under patent. Patent owners put their patents in a “pool” which enables reduction of prices of existing medicines by allowing generic manufacturers to produce exact copies on payment of a royalty.
“The patent pool mechanism is an important tool in the toolbox because it provides an innovative approach to price reductions which will improve access to medicines for treatment of HIV,” says Lucy Chesire of TB Action.
She says that the “patent pool” mechanism will make it easier for researchers to develop new formulations, such as fixed-dose all-in-one pills, because they will be able to access permission to use the individual medicines from a single source, hence overcoming the challenge of having to negotiate with each company.
The mechanism would also help stimulate interest in research on new paediatric formulations for children living with HIV who are currently forced to rely on unsuitable adult ARVs.
“Children living with HIV have fallen off the research agenda of the pharmaceutical companies because they do not present a viable and profitable market. It is shameful that as a result of a paradigm that puts profit before life, less than 10 percent of over 2 million children living with HIV have access to medicines that help them stay alive”, warns Christa Cepuch, a pharmacist with HAI Africa.
For more information about the patent pool mechanism click on the video below: