Oakland Gardens, NY — (SBWIRE) — 07/08/2015 — The Justice and Peace Commission for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has raised serious concerns about patent laws in South Africa that severely diminish the financial capacity of the health department to purchase new and more effective drugs for the public health care.

A loophole in South African patent law allows pharmaceutical companies to re-patent drugs as ‘new’ even though only minor alterations have been made to the original formulation. This means that even after the patent window has expired, the original patent owner can extend protection for an additional period of time, denying generic manufacturers’ access.

Says Commission Chairperson, Bishop Abel Gabuza: “As a country we need an innovative approach that effectively balances protection of the poor and the ability of pharmaceutical companies to recover costs and make reasonable profit off the medical products they make. Intellectual property protection, as it currently prevails in South Africa, fails to achieve this balance. It makes new and more effective medicine financially unaffordable for the health department and therefore unavailable to the millions of poor people in South Africa. ”

In particular, the Catholic bishops are concerned that some effective drugs for cancer and TB are priced beyond the reach of the government hospitals and poorer patients, as the poor people in urban and rural areas are increasingly bearing the burden of cancer. Various cancer drugs are patented and priced out of reach: including Trastuzumab for HER2- positive breast cancer; Bortezomib used to treat multiple myeloma and mantle cell lymphoma; and Sorafenib, an effective medication for kidney cancer.

SACBC’s Justice and Peace Commission has called on the Department of Trade and Industry to save the lives of cancer patients by urgently finalising the National Policy on Intellectual Property for approval by Cabinet.

Adds Bishop Gabuza: “It is regrettable that the process of finalizing the patent reforms seems to be hijacked by the narrow interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies. We strongly appeal to the Minister of Trade and Industry to take the bold stance of prioritizing the lives of our people over the profit-making interests of powerful pharmaceutical companies.”

Bishop Gabuza also indicated that SACBC’s Justice and Peace Commission has signed on to support the Fix the Patent Laws campaign. The Fix the Patent Laws Campaign was started in November 2011 by the Treatment Action Campaign, Doctors without Borders and SECTION27. The campaign aims to ensure access to affordable medicines for all people living in South Africa, including those affected by cancer.

About Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (which is comprised of the Catholic Bishops of Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland) is an organisation, approved by the Holy See, of diocesan Bishops and others equivalent in Canon Law, serving in the ecclesiastical Provinces of Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, in and through which members exercise their pastoral office jointly through the pooling of wise counsel and experiences in matters concerning their common interest in order to promote that greater good which the Church offers humankind especially through formation and programmes of the apostolate which are fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the age.