Kenyan lawmakers approve bill to suspend drug patent rights and improve cheaper drug access

The Kenyan Parliament yesterday voted unanimously to pass legislation that permits the nation to import and manufacture cheaper generic drugs, a move that “def[ies] the global pharmaceutical industry,” Reuters/Washington Post reports.

The Industrial Properties Bill 2001 “effectively loosens the pharmaceutical giant’s hold on patent rights for a variety of medicines,” including antiretroviral medicines to fight HIV infection (Reuters/Washington Post, 13/06).

The bill allows Kenya to “suspend drug patent rights” in a national health emergency, allowing the passage of less expensive generic medicines into the country. Both government ministers and opposition lawmakers supported the bill, which brings the country “in line” with World Trade Organization rules (Wall Street Journal, 13/06). Advocates say the bill will improve access to antiretrovirals for the 2.2 million HIV-positive Kenyans. However, Kenyans will have to wait for the importation of the cheaper drugs, as the bill stipulates that Kenya give drug makers six months’ notice before licensing other companies to import or produce generic versions of patented drugs. Before it can become law, the measure must proceed to a third reading in Parliament, during which small amendments may be made, and must be approved by the president.

Kenya is the second African country to pass such legislation, following South Africa’s Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of 1997 (Reuters/New York Times, 13/06). A lawsuit filed by 39 of the world’s largest drug makers against the South African law alleging patent rights violation was dropped in April.

Source: Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reports

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