Kenya May Consider HIV Drug Compulsory Licensing

Kenya is the latest country to assert that it will not let international patent protection restrict access to life-saving medicines, including HIV drugs, according to a report from the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).

"We shall not stand by and see people die. We shall source cheaper essential generic drugs from anywhere and from whomever is ready to do business with us to protect the lives of those who need them," Assistant Health Minister Wilfred Machage told IRIN recently.

Many African countries, including Kenya, support compulsory licensing for antiretroviral (ARV) drugs on the grounds that HIV/AIDS is considered an epidemic, according to IRIN.

Machage told IRIN that patent protection gives multinational drugmakers too much power over the pricing of HIV drugs and pointed to a need for new laws to protect local generic drugmakers against potential patent litigation.

Recently in Thailand, the government issued a compulsory license for Abbott Laboratories' HIV drug Kaletra, after which Abbott agreed to lower the price of the drug.

In India, Novartis is engaged in litigation over patent protection for one of its cancer drugs. Kenya is concerned a ruling in favor of Novartis could result in decreased access to HIV drugs, since the country's standard first-line ARV regimen consists of three Indian-made generics, according to IRIN.