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.
“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,” siad the Commission Chairperson, Abel Gabuza, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of Kimberly.
In particular, the commission is concerned that some effective drugs for cancer and TB are priced beyond the reach of 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.
Bishop Gabuza 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.
“It is regrettable that the process of finalising 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 prioritising the lives of our people over the profit-making interests of powerful pharmaceutical companies,” Bishop Gabuza emphasised.
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.