Fix The Patent Laws update

Advocates for Breast Cancer’s project manager, Salomé Meyer, tells us about the progress made in the Fix the Patent Laws coalition.

The Fix the Patent Laws (FTPL) coalition was formed in 2011 by the Treatment Action Campaign, Doctors without Borders and SECTION27 to advocate for reform of South Africa’s outdated drug patent laws in order to improve medicine affordability and accessibility. In 2015, Advocates for Breast Cancer (ABC) and several other organisations became members and  then underwent training in order to communicate effectively with government.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has convened a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicine” (www.unsgaccessmeds.org), with the objective “to review and assess proposals and recommend solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context    of health technologies.”

The panel is lead by Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland and Festus Mogae of Botswana, while South Africa’s Director-General of the Department of Health, Precious Malebona Matsoso, is a panel member.

Two public hearings were held – one in London and the other in Johannesburg – to question proposals submitted by interested parties. The FTPL coalition submitted numerous proposals. Two breast cancer survivors, Babalwa Malgas and Thobeka Daki, both from East London, gave testimony to how they were denied treatment of trastuzumab – a lifesaving treatment for HER2 positive sufferers. Both these advocates were trained by the ABC in 2014/2015 and are a true reflection of what can be achieved with focused training of advocates. For more of Babalwa’s story visit blogforbreastcancer.wordpress.com and read entries dated 24 October 2013 and 12 October 2014.

Trastuzumab is partially available in the private sector depending on the medical schemes rules. However, in     the public sector this treatment is not commonly available. At each treatment centre, a Patient Treatment Committee (PTC) has to approve treatment. This is influenced by the availability of sufficient budget to supply the required 12-month course. Trastuzumab has been made available to the public sector through a negotiated price by the supplier.

In early 2016, the National Tender Committee again did not approve the tender for tratuzumab. Based on these facts, ABC made specific appeal to Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Health, as part of the series of focused issues addressed to him.

To focus specific attention on the excessive price of this lifesaving drug, FTPL members, including ABC and Cancer Alliance, picketed outside pharmaceutical company ROCHE on 31 March.

Cancer Alliance Exco members met with Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on 1 April. He agreed that special attention will be given to making this drug available in the public sector at a more affordable price.

During the United Nation’s 32nd Human Rights Council meeting, that took place between 13 June – 1 July, a resolution on access to medicines proposed by a number of developing countries was adopted, as well as a resolution on enhancing capacity-building in public health.

Advocates for Breast Cancer and Cancer Alliance members will continue to lobby for equitable access to medicine to treat cancer. Where you live should not determine the outcome of your treatment!

If you want tobecome involved more directly or have a particular issue you want to bring to our attention contact us on info@canceralliance.co.za or if you require more info on the Fix the Patent Laws coalition, visit www.fixthepatentlaws.org

Written by Salome Meyer.

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