Importing ARVs Cheaper For Zim- IP Experts

IMPORTING Anti-Retro Viral (ARVs) drugs from giant pharmaceutical economies like India is actually cheaper and affordable compared to producing them locally in Zimbabwe, Intellectual Property Rights (IP) Experts have warned.

By Michael Gwarisa

Briefing an Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Medicines Media training in the capital, Legal practitioner and IP expert Tapiwanashe Kujinga said given the obsolete machinery and technology housed at local pharmaceutical companies, it was not viable to manufacture ARVs locally.

“As you might be aware, Varichem used to manufacture ARVs locally but as time went on, the machinery and technology became old and manufacturing using old technologies and machinery has become too expensive.

“Local manufactures have to import almost 100 percent of all the raw materials needed in the production of ARVs. It is actually cheaper to import from India than to manufacture them locally,” said Kujinga.

According to statistics, Zimbabwe has a substantial HIV and TB burden, with an estimated 1.4 million people living with HIV, and a TB prevalence rate of 409 per 100 000 population.  However, granting HIV positive patients access to life saving drugs has been made possible mainly through donor partners such as PEPFAR, the Global Fund among others as government is currently facing financial and resources constraints.

“Procurement of HIV and TB medicines and other commodities is done by PEPFAR itself based on quantities received from the Ministry of Health (MoHCC). Similarly, the Global Fund supports the ministry in both HIV/AIDS and TB, and procurement of medicines is mainly done through UNICEF Copenhagen office.

“Similarly, the Principal Recipient receives the quantities from ministry and uses the UNICEF procurement mechanism to source the medicines. The government also does its own procurement using funds from National Aids Trust Fund through NATPharm, a pharmaceutical company wholly owned by government,” added Kujinga.

He also highlighted that there was need to amend the Zimbabwe Patents Act to include strengthening the patent law to forbid patenting of known medicines for new uses, or discovery of a new form of a known substance which does not result in the enhancement of the new known efficiency of that substance, known as “evergreening” in line with the India precedent, section 3 (d) of the Patents Act among other areas.

Zimbabwe has however developed a national intellectual Property Policy with technical assistance from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

The policy states that the health sector shall promote access to medicines at affordable costs, by exploiting the TRIPS flexibilities.

Meanwhile, Moses Nkomo an Intellectual Property expert said Zimbabwe imports more than 90 percent of its ARVs from other countries as it no longer has capacity to produce them locally owing to operational and cost issues.

“Most of the first line drugs are imported from India while some are coming from South Africa.

“For Zimbabwe to manufacture locally, it would need to import almost all the raw materials from source countries which is expensive. However, the TRIPS flexibilities allows for Parallel importation which actually gives Zimbabwe an option to import drugs where they find them cheap,” said Nkomo.

The TRIPS flexibilities are mechanisms built into the TRIPS agreement and the subsequent Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health (The Doha Declaration) allowing member states to avoid the strict patent protection measures within the TRIPS Agreement in addressing public health crisis such as HIV or other circumstance of extreme urgency.

These flexibilities include compulsory licensing, Parallel importation, early working exceptions, transitional periods for least developed and middle income countries, definition of patentable matter and exclusion from patentability.

However, for Zimbabwe, existing policy specifically mentions the use of TRIPS flexibilities at a national level but the policy is yet to be adopted by cabinet.








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