ZIMBABWE is one of a few developing countries that have been issued a compulsory licence which allows the country to produce generic drugs, a recent report on the Trade-related aspects of Intelle
ctual Property Rights (Trips) by the Trades Centre has said.
Most third world countries don’t even have the enabling legislation.
Only Varichem has got the licence in Zimbabwe.
Trips is an arm of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that secures a minimum level of protection for intellectual property rights and offers enforcement mechanisms in all signatory countries.
In a report titled Implementing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) in Zimbabwe, Trades Centre said very few developing countries made use of compulsory licencing.
“While the United States has led the world in issuing compulsory licences, especially to restore competition when violations of their anti-trust laws have been found, or negotiated settlement of anti-trust cases before full adjudication has occurred, developing countries have hardly had to resort to compulsory licencing,” Trades Centre said.
“Compulsory licences have generally been issued in respect of patents.”
Trades Centre said the power of the drivers of Trips, including global pharmaceutical companies, influenced the final agreement in ways that could vitiate the autonomy of developing countries.
Trades Centre said Zimbabwe had some experience of compulsory licencing in respect to patents.
In 2002, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs issued a notice declaring a state of emergency for HIV/Aids to enable government or authorised persons to make use of any patented drug, including antiretroviral drugs, to treat HIV/Aids-related conditions.
“The declaration, initially made for a period of six months, was extended in January 2003 to December 2008,” Trades Centre said.
“While the declaration makes provision for a person authorised in writing by the minister to make or use any patented drug, including any antiretroviral drug, it makes provision for any such person to import only generic drugs used in the treatment of persons suffering from HIV/Aids or related conditions.”
Currently, at least 25% of Zimbabweans are infected with HIV/Aids.
Trades Centre said the government policy was meant to promote the importation of generics, which are considered cheaper than patented equivalents.
Trades Centre said the declaration of emergency had a clear basis in the Declaration on the Trips Agreement and Public Health adopted at the fourth ministerial conference in Doha in 2001.
The 2001 agreement stresses the interpretation of Trips in a manner supportive of public health, promotes both access to existing medicines and research and development of new ones.
The Trips agreement fundamentally altered the intellectual property regime by extending property rights globally and reducing the policy-making autonomy of some international organisations.
“Suddenly, practices that had been acceptable before, such as keeping medicine off patents, became unlawful,” Trades Centre said.