Patent dispute in South Africa limits access to HIV medicine

Patents in South Africa led to widespread stock problem for HIV medicine
Patents in South Africa led to widespread stock problem for HIV medicine | Courtesy of sciencedaily.com

Health professionals have called for leaders in South Africa to override patents to stop the widespread stock shortage of HIV medicine as doctors have been forced to send patients home without drugs because the pharmaceutical company AbbVie refuses to provide a license for generic manufacture.

“People are being turned away from clinics without medicine and are being asked to purchase it on the private market. Many simply cannot afford it and this causes distress,” Amir Shroufi, Doctors Without Borders' deputy medical coordinator in South Africa, said. “Alarmingly, people without access to treatment over time can become resistant to lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r) and require more expensive medicines – they also risk falling sick and could even die.”

The problem now encompasses the medical industry, business and politics in South Africa. People are calling for the South African government to step in.

“Since AbbVie has refused to act appropriately to ensure that patients obtain the medicines they need to stay healthy and alive, the South African government should be compelled to take action,” Shroufi said. “The government should take steps to ensure that the company’s patents no longer block people from getting this essential drug from other suppliers.”

The concern is not just for businesses but for patients throughout the country.

“With thousands of lives hanging in the balance, the challenges of overcoming LPV/r patent barriers to resolve the current crisis must not prevent the government from taking action,” Catherine Tomlinson, with Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign in South Africa, said. “Many of the patent-related problems that have led to shortages of LPV/r could have been avoided if South Africa stopped blindly handing out patents, and had more pro-public health laws in place. 

"If South Africa examined patent applications, LPV/r might not have been granted multiple patents for a prolonged patent monopoly, and if the process for issuing compulsory licenses were less onerous, alternative suppliers could have been on the market years ago.”

Organizations in this Story

Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders

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