Patent pool decision will diffuse health time bomb in Africa

International agency Oxfam has welcomed the announcement by international drug purchasing agency UNITAID to create a patent pool for HIV drugs. Millions of poor people will now have access to cheaper, more appropriate medicines.

Because HIV becomes resistant to treatment over time, millions now need expensive second-generation medicines. However the prohibitively cost of these drugs makes them unavailable to most who need them.

This new agreement will mean drugs that currently cost about $1000 a year could be available for as little as $100. The voluntary initiative will ‘pool’ drug patents, allowing manufacturers to produce affordable generic versions of second-generation drugs. In return the generic manufacturers pay a fair royalty payment to the originator pharmaceutical company.

Mohga Kamal-Yanni, Oxfam’s Senior Health Policy Advisor and UNITAID civil society board member said, “This historic moment brings hope to the millions who don’t currently get the HIV medicines they need to stay alive.

“This will not undermine any country’s ability to use existing intellectual property law. We have seen positive engagement from companies such as Gilead, Merck and Tibotec during the development of the plan. Now is the time for them and others to demonstrate their commitment to global public health by adding their patents to the pool.”