Myanmar CSOs Provide Input to Draft Intellectual Property Law to Ensure Affordable Medicines

Aug 19, 2014

The consultation resulted in a set of recommendations from the civil society that included making the full use of flexibilities and safeguards available under the TRIPS agreement

Yangon - More than 60  people representing the communities affected by HIV, TB and cancer, as well as health service providers and policy makers last week participated in a consultation on Myanmar’s draft intellectual property law, marking an important step ensuring that community voices are included in the new legislation.

The consultation stressed that the intellectual property law needs to have full flexibilities and safeguards set out in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health. They provide opportunities for Myanmar to secure and expand access to low-cost, good quality lifesaving medicines, including those for HIV, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, malaria and non-communicable diseases such as cancer.

The consultation is a first of its kind Myanmar and was organized jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNAIDS and International AIDS Alliance.

“This consultation was organized to get the views of the civil society and their communities on the draft intellectual property law. It is important to ensure that their views are heard and the essential requirements of their communities are met by the new law,” said Dr Moe Moe Thwe, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“It is also important that the new legislation is in line with international norms,” she said.

Myanmar is in a unique position right now as it can take advantage of the 2013 decision of the WTO TRIPS Council that allows Least Developed Countries (LDCs) such as Myanmar to delay implementing the TRIPS Agreement (except for a few provisions) until 2021. The decision has been interpreted by legal experts to also permit LDCs to postpone the grant of 20-year patent protection for pharmaceutical products.

At the consultation, participants heard from an international legal expert Kajal Bhardwaj, who illustrated that Myanmar can learn from its neighbours like India and Thailand on how these countries have pursued a balance between ensuring the right to affordable medicines while at the same duly fulfilling the obligations of the WTO TRIPS agreement.

“It is a good thing that Myanmar is developing its law and having this discussion with communities. It is the communities and the people who are using medicines that can inform government about its access and usage,” she said.

Given the likely impact of intellectual property legislation on human development efforts including poverty reduction and universal health coverage, Dr Win Mar from UNDP said, “Intellectual property rights should be approached from a pro-development perspective. We commend the government of Myanmar for its leadership and commitment to the inclusive, participatory lawmaking process.”

The consultation resulted in a set of recommendations from the civil society that included making the full use of flexibilities and safeguards available under the TRIPS agreement including the transition period, ensuring the exemption of pharmaceutical products such as medicines, diagnostics and ingredients during the transition period amongst others.

“Very good comments, suggestions and ideas came out during the consultation and provided valuable inputs to the draft intellectual property law. The law is crucial for all citizens in our country to have access to affordable essential drugs in future,” said Dr. Soe Naing, country director, International AIDS Alliance.

Tina Boonto from UNAIDS expressed her appreciation to the Ministry of Science and Technology and the participants at the consultation. She said that UNAIDS and its partners stand ready to offer technical support.

The discussions and recommendations from the consultation will be shared with the government for consideration in the further development of the new legislation.

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