Lilongwe, Malawi – Leaders and health and trade experts united in Lilongwe to call for greater coherence between national laws and regional frameworks to increase access to lifesaving medicines, vaccines and other health technologies for those who need them most.
The High-Level Meeting led by the Government of Malawi and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), called specifically for ARIPO Member States to utilize flexibilities in intellectual property law and ensure that people can access medicines and other essential health technologies.
Malawi’s President, His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, opened the historic three-day consultation on Wednesday by affirming his commitment to improving access to medicines and health technologies in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We want to promote ways of ensuring affordable essential medicines. This is our sacred duty,” said President Mutharika. “We all share the obligation to make Africa a healthy continent. The progress of our nations depends on having healthy and productive citizens.”
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has developed flexibilities in intellectual property law. Various health-related policy options are available to WTO members to increase access to medicines and health technologies in order to promote public health objectives, especially for Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Recognizing that 13 of the 19 ARIPO Member States are LDCs, participants concluded that both national and ARIPO policies, statutes and practices should be strengthened to improve coherence between national public health objectives and other regional policy frameworks and legislations.
Last year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines recommended that WTO members must make full use of the flexibilities included in the WTO TRIPS Agreement to promote access to medicines and health technologies when necessary.
“We still have a long way to go to meet the Universal Health Coverage target UN Member States committed to under Sustainable Development Goal 3,” said Ms. Florence Rolle, United Nations Resident Coordinator ad interim in Malawi. “Countries must adopt and implement strategies to make expensive new health technologies affordable for health systems and patients.”
Health systems across the sub-Saharan region are under pressure from the dual burden of disease. Along with the old enemies of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases are putting untenable pressure on health systems.
At the consultation, participants prepared the Lilongwe Communiqué, calling for solidarity and action to improve policy coherence to increase access to affordable medicines and vaccines, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
“ARIPO aims to promote harmonization of intellectual property laws appropriate to the needs of Member States,” said Fernando Dos Santos, Director-General of ARIPO. “As such, we will endeavour to support Member States to take advantage of TRIPS flexibilities to promote not only access to affordable medicines, but also industrial development.”
Civil society, patients and industry representatives, as well as technical experts and academics were also present and shared their experience and perspectives. The consultation allowed for crucial discussions on specific actions to increase affordable access to medicines and other health technologies on domestic, regional and international levels.
Les Ong, Programme Analyst, UNDP, firstname.lastname@example.org
Christina Pascual, Communications Specialist, UNDP, email@example.com