Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants to know how the contract was awarded. File photo: Sharon Seretlo

Cape Town -

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has received widespread support for rejecting as “genocide” a US lobby group plan for international pharmaceutical companies to lobby against South Africa’s draft intellectual policy framework.

The policy, out for comment since late last year, aims to create a domestic intellectual property regimen to make cheaper life-saving medication possible. The regimen would see more flexible patents and an examinations office to prevent reissuing of patents on the basis of a mere ingredient tweak, rather than innovation.

Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that the Washington-based lobby, Public Affairs Engagement, had submitted a nine-page document to an umbrella company body, the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (Ipasa). The lobby proposals reportedly had a R6 million price tag.

As a war of words erupted, Ipasa chief operating officer Val Beaumont said the association members had reviewed and rejected the proposals, and no money was ever paid.

However, the anger over the proposals continued this week, given the often tense relations between the government and big companies in the health sector. The situation is not expected to improve with the forthcoming Competition Commission probe into pricing in private health.

Big health-care companies have regularly challenged government health reform efforts in the courts, since 2001 when 38 pharmaceutical companies finally dropped their court case against the 1997 Medicines Act. This act gave the health minister powers to override patent rights in emergencies so that life-saving drugs like antiretrovirals could be available more cheaply.

On Tuesday the ANC national working committee condemned the “attempted subverting” of the intellectual property draft policy after it received a briefing from the health minister.

“It is the view of the committee that the lobby group and its cohorts are interested only in maximising profits at the expense of quality and affordable health care for all our people.”

ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley and IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini welcomed Motsoaledi’s tough stance.

“A responsible government must prioritise the needs of people living in South Africa and act in their best interests,” Dudley said. Action needed to be taken when inflated prices put crucial medicines out of reach.

Meanwhile, nurses’ union Denosa joined the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union in rejecting the lobby proposals. Nehawu said on Monday that the lobby proposals “had everything to do with companies making more money”.

Political Bureau