Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Compulsory patent licensing and local drug manufacturing capacity in Africa

Olasupo Ayodeji Owoeye

Africa has the highest disease burden in the world and continues to depend on pharmaceutical imports to meet public health needs. As Asian manufacturers of generic medicines begin to operate under a more protectionist intellectual property regime, their ability to manufacture medicines at prices that are affordable to poorer countries is becoming more circumscribed. The Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health gives member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) the right to adopt legislation permitting the use of patented material without authorization by the patent holder, a provision known as “compulsory licensing”. For African countries to take full advantage of compulsory licensing they must develop substantial local manufacturing capacity. Because building manufacturing capacity in each African country is daunting and almost illusory, an African free trade area should be developed to serve as a platform not only for the free movement of goods made pursuant to compulsory licences, but also for an economic or financial collaboration towards the development of strong pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in the continent. Most countries in Africa are in the United Nations list of least developed countries, and this allows them, under WTO law, to refuse to grant patents for pharmaceuticals until 2021. Thus, there is a compelling need for African countries to collaborate to build strong pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in the continent now, while the current flexibilities in international intellectual property law offer considerable benefits.

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