The meeting focused on implementation of public health sensitive TRIPS Flexibilities in the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) to promote access to medicines. This Meeting was attended by key civil society organizations and government officials from countries that are members to ARIPO and signatory to the Harare Protocol, diverse stakeholders in health from the African region, international development and intellectual property experts.
The meeting also interrogated the numerous initiatives in region including pharmaceutical business plans, and how countries make utilization of TRIPS-flexibilities with the aim to improve availability and affordability of medicines in the region and increase self-reliance through local production. Thus far, the focus was more on incorporation of flexibilities in national patent laws and the LDC transition periods to start applying the TRIPS. Significant gaps and challenges remain in the full utilization of TRIPS flexibilities. Such as, coordination in laws or legal incoherencies, capacity both financial and technical capacity, limited understanding of the TRIPS among diverse stakeholders including the civil society and the policy enablers.
The meeting also provided information on the operations of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) which administers the filing, examination and grant of patents for 18Contracting States of the Harare Protocol (ARIPO’s legal instrument on patents): Botswana, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, SãoTomé and Príncipe, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Twelve (12) of these states are categorised by the UN as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) with no obligation to grant pharmaceutical patents. ARIPO’s rules and practices have a direct impact on whether the population in the region have access to affordable medicines and whether the ambition of a robust generic industry in the region will be realized. Therefore it is crucial to implement and use public health sensitive TRIPS flexibilities.