Civil society criticism that the anti-counterfeit policy drive in East Africa could result in the blocking of legitimate and affordable generic medicines is merely aimed at raising fear among the region's "unintelligent" people.
This is the opinion of Juma Mwapachu, secretary general of the East African Community (EAC), as expressed in an interview with IPS's Wambi Michael.
Activists have raised concern that recently mooted national and regional anti-counterfeit policies and bills will deny Ugandans, Kenyans and other East Africans access to safe, effective, quality and affordable generic medication which currently forms the bulk of the region's medicine imports.
While being non-committal about how the concern about generic medicines will be addressed in the EAC's policy and law on counterfeits, he insisted that East African governments won't violate the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement that allows least developed countries (LDCs) flexibility with regards intellectual property and medicines.
Part 2 of the interview follows below.
Civil society's concern is that the proposed policy seems to counteract the flexibilities as provided for under the World Trade Organisation's TRIPS agreement.
I am telling you that we are nowhere close to tabling that bill before the East African legislative assembly. Right now it is with the consultants. Incidentally, I have not seen the draft bill.
I have seen it and the problem is that the policy and bill seem to suggest other concerns rather than that of public health.
As secretary general I can tell that I have not seen the draft bill. In fact, it was only (on or around Apr 26) that it was sent to me. That is because I (was) attending the Investment Climate Facility (ICF) summit in Dar es Salaam on May 3 and 4 where counterfeits (were on the agenda).
I wanted to know where we are. But I have not even reviewed it. Not even my counsel to the East African Community has seen the bill. So, what are we talking about here?
What role is the ICF playing in this process? The ICF is allegedly representing the interests of multinational companies opposed to accessible generics.
That is a falsehood peddled by so-called civil society. We have a working relationship with the Investment Climate Facility which goes beyond the policy on fighting counterfeits. In partnership with the ICF we have embarked on another project to harmonise member states' commercial laws as we prepare for the common market.
The ICF has prepared an inventory of such laws. So far 45 pieces of legislation on trade, business registration, investment, insurance and banking have been identified by the consultants. They are not only interested in the anti-counterfeit legislation, as you seem to suggest.
The concern is that the policy they have funded could trade away the flexibilities that LDCs are supposed to enjoy under TRIPS when it comes to patents and access to medicines.
All our members have signed the WTO agreement. There is no way that we can have a regional law that contravenes an international law. Don't (spread) fear among East Africans, particularly those who are suffering from this (AIDS) pandemic. This is creating unnecessary fears. We don't have intelligent people.
Do you believe that generic drugs should be left out of the expansive definition as provided for in the EAC's draft policy and bill?
We are not going to contravene TRIPS, which is clear on generic medicines. How can we contravene and international law that our countries are signatories to? Impossible.
What about generic medicine?
I can assure you that we shall abide by international obligations, particularly TRIPS. I use generics because I cannot afford branded drugs. So I will be the last person to block their importation.
I support access to medicines initiatives but not access to medicines (supplied by) stupid, silly businessmen who link up with obscure suppliers and they bring panadol extra, which is chalk, or metakalfin which is not proper metakalfin. They want to kill our people. No, no, I will not allow this kind of shoddy counterfeit imports to come and destroy the lives of our people.
For part one of this interview, click here.