Explaining intellectual property and patent laws to a 60 year old Gogo or senior citizen with little educational background is not the easiest of missions to accomplish. But this 60 year old Gogo is the one person who needs to know more about this subject matter than anyone else. She is the one who is fundamentally affected by the big decisions of national policy-makers, and it is for that reason that we have to unpack these complex issues and make them easy for the ordinary woman on the street to understand.
Intellectual property (IP) and its impact on access to medicines must be so easy to understand that any community member is able to engage and have a meaningful input it.
Once this is achieved we have seen far more active involvement, participation and passion from the community member, instead of a member that is attending the demonstration to get a free t-shirt or as an outing away from the township for the day. Instead they now understand the essence of the struggle and why it is absolutely necessary that they get involved and really get behind our campaign to Fix The Patent Laws.
This is the secret ingredient needed for an effective campaign, especially when we go up against big international pharmaceutical companies or government structures with many political influences, backed up with heavy financial muscle.
We started with one branch training in Khayelitsha, which last week turned into a total of 11 branches being trained on IP in Gauteng. In October 2013 we mobilised 500 comrades to march to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to submit our recommendations to improve the draft IP Policy. A policy that includes a number of flexibilities that will ensure the South African government are able to purchase medication at a cheaper rate more quickly, allowing people in South Africa to have access to the life-saving medicines they need.
On the day of the march to the DTI comrade Andrew Mosane, People Living with HIV/Aids (PWA) representative of TAC, angrily expressed himself saying, “I am being deprived of my rights to access my ARV’s while you people sit in your fancy offices, driving your fancy cars while I struggle to get my medication, all because you refuse to fix the patent laws and use some of the flexibilities that will allow me and the rest of the ordinary South Africans to access medicines cheaper!”
As a result of the Fix the Patent Laws campaign we have received an enormous amount of media coverage from local and international publications, gaining strong momentum to push through these pro-access reforms. So much so that the international pharmaceutical industry came up with an emergency plan to derail our efforts to maintain the existing system. A system which currently allows them to sell medication to South Africa at high prices thus making huge profits here, more than compared to other countries such as India and Brazil which have similar economic profiling as us.
Our Minister of Health, Aaron Mostoaledi responded in rage over this plan naming it an “act of genocide”, he said the plan was a “plot of satanic magnitude” and that every South African should fight against it to the “last drop of their blood”.
The plot included amongst other things the establishment of a front organisation that would be run from the USA but based in South Africa, with the sole purpose of derailing our attention from seeing patents as a hindering factor in accessing cheaper medicines, but instead make us believe the problem is in the mismanagement of funds by the Department of Health.
Once this was explained to our members you could see the fire in their eyes. Their responses to take action were positive. They were motivated and excited to reiterate the information to their fellow comrades and get them equally fired up.
These are now the crucial stages of the campaign where we have the full support of communities behind us. The plan now is to put more pressure on the DTI to finalise the IP policy before the elections, in order for the policy to be passed through to parliament containing our recommendations, where it can then be discussed and passed into national law.