RANGOON — People living with HIV in Burma are worried that a patent law under development could significantly hinder their ability to access affordable medicine, in a country where about 40 percent of those requiring HIV treatment are already unable to get it.
Facing pressure from Western nations looking to invest in the country as it transitions from military rule, Burma’s government is developing intellectual property laws to replace legislation that dates back to the colonial era. The laws would help protect against counterfeiting, but they would also introduce a patent system for medicine that could significantly drive up prices.
Myo Thant Aung, chairman of the Myanmar Positive Group, an advocacy network for people living with HIV, says the network will meet with members of Parliament next Thursday to brief them on how a new patent law could hinder access to affordable treatment.
“We will tell them, ‘A patent law will really affect us, so please be patient’,” he told The Irrawaddy this week at an annual forum in Rangoon for people living with HIV. About 250 HIV-positive people attended, including those from some of the most marginalized populations, such as sex workers and drug users, along with speakers from UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and other local and international NGOs.
The issue of patents is crucial in the health care sector, especially in developing countries such as Burma that cannot afford costly brand-name drugs. Patents allow pharmaceutical companies to have a monopoly on the production of a drug they invented, in a bid to promote innovation, for the course of the patent term, defined by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as at least 20 years. A patent prevents other companies from producing, selling or importing more affordable generic versions of a drug.