A coalition of civil society organizations spearheading fight against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS on Monday urged Kenyan lawmakers to reject the proposed amendments to the Industrial Property Act, which they said would hamper efforts to place more patients of life-prolonging drugs.
Addressing a news conference in Nairobi, the activists said the amendments could raise the price of drugs, including anti- retroviral (ARVs) for people living with HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases, making medicines far out of reach for the majority of poor Kenyans.
"If these amendments are passed, they will seriously affect our ability to access the medicines we need and Kenya will be taking a giant step backwards in the right against HIV, TB, malaria and other health emergency," said Dr. Ignatius Kibe, a pharmacist and member of the coalition.
Dr. Kibe said some amendments are seeking to block the importation of parallel drugs, which meant the country would not have access to cheap drugs.
According to the changes, the government must buy a drug from the local market even if the same is going for as low as half the price in a neighboring country. But the present law allows the government to import drugs from any country if it is expensive in the local market.
"If our Members of Parliament pass these amendments, Kenya will witness a drastic increase in prices for various drugs. There will be an enormous increase in prices of medicines for HIV, and other serious disease, making medicines far out of the reach of majority of Kenyans," Dr. Kibe added.
The activists said the proposed amendments would force the government and their procurement agencies to first get consent from the medicine's patent holder before "shopping around the world" for the best price and importing that medicines into Kenya.
"It is obvious that both of these would be huge challenges, and would cause unnecessary delays for procurement processes, higher prices, and limit the government's ability to efficiently respond to the needs of Kenyans," said Dr. John Wesonga, a medical doctor involved in the fight against HIV.
"Amendments to this Act would be very dangerous because it would hamper efforts to put people on the life saving drugs. It will also reverse gains Kenya has made in the fight against HIV, TB and malaria," Dr. Wesonga added.
The civil society groups also wondered why the government took the amendments to the parliament after a Ministry of Health task force formed to study them had rejected them.
"We cannot play with people's lives. Nobody wants to be sick. We urge our members of parliament to look again at the amendments and to reject them," said Ludfine Anyango, a Kenyan activist.
Attempts by the government to introduce the same amendments were thwarted in parliament in 2002 as being against the interests of Kenyans.