Kenya joins drive to block new EU policy on ARVs

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A past protest on provision of ARVs. Mr Jimmy Gideyi (left) who will appear before the European Union panel next week, and Mr Edgar Sichangi, Legal Officer at the Aids Law Project. Photos: File and Courtesy/Standard

The Standard | 8th February 2011

Kenya joins drive to block new EU policy on ARVs

By John Oywa

Kenya has been sucked into a global campaign to block the European Union from implementing a new policy on Aids drugs.

The controversial move could restrict access to cheaper anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) by poor nations.

Health and civil society organisations in Kenya say the new Intellectual Property provisions currently under negotiations would push the prices of ARVs beyond the reach of the more than 1.5 million Kenyans living with the virus.

The activists have written to the European Union and the Kenya Government, protesting what they term damaging trade agreements such as the European Union-India Free Trade Agreement and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. They say the pacts would damage the fight against Aids.

They want Kenya not to support the proposed EU policy.

The Standard On Saturday has learnt that a representative of People Living with HIV and Aids in Kenya is due to travel to Brussels, Belgium, next week to deliver a protest note to the panel discussing the proposed trade agreements.

Personal plea

The agreements could reduce the production of cheaper generic ARVs in India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic medicine.

Mr Jimmy Gideyi, a retired army officer, will appear before the panel of EU parliamentarians on February 10, hoping to convince them to shelve the proposed agreements.

Gideyi, who has lived with the virus since 2004, is being sponsored by a humanitarian organisation – MÈdecins Sans FrontiËres (MSF).

"I will tell the EU parliament to prevail upon the European commission not to pressurise India into the free trade agreement because this will be disastrous," said Gideyi, a father of three. He accuses Kenyan politicians of doing little over the negotiations.

"We want Kenyan leaders to join NGOs in opposing the new medicine production policies being imposed by the European Commission," said Gideyi.

He added: "People like myself have lived longer because of the generic ARVs. I still want to live and educate my children. Restricting the production of these drugs will mean nothing but early deaths."

An official at the MSF Nairobi office, Ms Judy Waguma, confirmed Gideyi’s trip. She said MSF cares for thousands of people living with Aids, many of who depend on the drugs from India.

"Kenya stands to lose immensely should the new policy be implemented. This is why Gideyi’s trip to Brussels is important," she said.

Mr Edgar Sichangi, a legal officer at the Aids Law Project, said the gains made in the fight against Aids would be lost if politics and governments were allowed to dictate on the patents law on production of drugs.

"These policies will reduce the flow of affordable, life-saving generic medicines. This is a complex matter but we are keenly following it," said Sichangi.

He said the move would result to restrictions on generic competition, which will lead to higher drug prices and diminished access to medicines.

He said the US was also demanding that India adopts more restrictive intellectual property policies that would hinder generic production and restrict use of public health safe guards.

"Such restrictions on the Indian market will translate into decreased pipeline of affordable versions of important HIV medicines for people in developing countries. Costs to donors and national programmes will rise, ARVs access will be rationed and patients will die," he said.

The lawyer says many organisations rely on affordable quality generic medicines from India to treat its HIV patients.

Research shows more than 80 per cent of donor-funded purchases of Aids medicine come from India.

The ARVs do not cure Aids but prolong the lives of patients. The Kenyan civil society groups allege that in recent years, more than 20 legitimate shipments of generic medicines transiting through European ports to developing countries have been detained. "These detentions have nothing to do with fake medicines. They contained legitimate quality generic medicines," read their petition to the European Commission.

Further blow

They want the negotiations shelved, until concerned parties agree on alternatives.

And in a what could be a further blow to Aids patients, three generic drug manufacturers and a pharmaceutical company –Tibotec, owned by Johnson & Johnson have signed new agreements that could deny patients access to a new medicine.

The MSF has protested that Tibotec has licensed production of the rilpivirine to a South African and two Indian manufacturers, but has limited the geographic scope of the licenses.

source: The Standard