From 1-3 November 2017, GAiA Research Fellow Katrina Geddes attended a conference in Lilongwe, Milawi, jointly organized by the Malawi Government and the United Nations Development Programme (“UNDP”), titled “Promoting Policy Coherence on Health Technology Innovation and Access in the ARIPO Region”. The African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (“ARIPO”) is an association of nineteen English-speaking African countries formed in 1976 for the purpose of exchanging ideas and experience, promoting the acquisition and development of IP-protected technology, and harmonizing intellectual property laws appropriate to the needs of members and the region as a whole.
Of the various protocols developed by ARIPO to address specific areas of intellectual property, only the 1982 Harare Protocol covers patents and industrial designs. All ARIPO members – except Somalia – are also parties to the Protocol. It empowers the ARIPO Office to grant and administer patents on behalf of Member States where such patents have, in each of these States, the effect of (and are subject to the same conditions as) a national patent granted by that State. The Office is required to undertake, or arrange for, both formal and substantive examination of patent applications, which become effective in all States upon grant, unless a State elects to reject an ARIPO patent as ineffective within its own territory. ARIPO patents, though regionally effective, remain subject to State-specific national laws on compulsory licences, forfeiture, use of the patented invention in the public interest, and penalties for patent infringement.
Given GAiA’s recent work on access to medicines in sub-Saharan Africa, the purpose of this trip was threefold: first, to understand how ARIPO’s protocols and processes affect access to affordable medicines within the region; secondly, to hear from ARIPO member states about their shared and varied experiences implementing TRIPS flexibilities within their national laws; and finally, to meet with government representatives in Malawi to identify local barriers to access and lay the groundwork for GAiA’s future collaboration. Katrina met with representatives from the Malawi Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Board, the Central Medical Stores Trust, the State House, and the Department of the Registrar General to present GAiA’s mission, objectives and framework, and to understand Malawi’s particular concerns regarding access to medicines and falsified drugs. A local working group was established to guide the provision of technical advice by GAiA to various ministries within Malawi, in particular regarding the ongoing review of Malawi’s patent legislation and a new draft of the national medicines regulatory legislation which is currently being considered by a Cabinet committee. Issues, priorities and next steps were addressed at the meeting, with significant work to follow, prior to the next in-person meeting, which is expected to take place in early 2018.
Katrina Geddes is a Research Fellow at Global Access in Action. Her work primarily focuses on increasing access to medicines in Sub-saharan Africa by providing technical advice to local governments on public-health-sensitive legal, policy, and regulatory reform.