For over five years, I have been working for access to essential medicines.
I have always been amazed to see how it is the poor countries that often must pay the most when it comes to keep their citizens healthy.
Consider antiretrovirals – these live-saving medications are crucial for keeping HIV a chronic and treatable condition.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, roughly 25 percent – likely less – of the adults who need treatment can access it.
Our region has some of the highest prices of ARVs in the world.
There are numerous reasons for this; but, outdated patent systems and countries’ overprotection commitments contribute significantly.
Cheaper generics simply cannot compete in the market.
I was thus thrilled to learn that the President of Kyrgyzstan recently signed amendments to the country’s patent law that would allow access to more affordable, good quality meds.
While Kyrgyzstan recently became a lower-middle income country it is still experiencing serious economic constraints.
Under the new funding rules of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the country needs to allocate more money to fight HIV from its own budget. Kyrgyzstan’s civil society and political leaders realized this would be impossible without a reduction in the current prices of medicines.
After heated debates, Parliament agreed with the proposal submitted by civil society, and voted to amend the law.
Under the new law, in the cases of epidemics like HIV, Kyrgyzstan will be able to import medicines from the cheapest source anywhere in world, without infringing on patents.
In cases of a public health need, the government could issue compulsory licenses for patented products and import generic equivalents.
Patents can no longer be extended or renewed after trivial modifications.
Currently, the lowest global price for first line HIV therapeutic medication is about four times more expensive in Kyrgyzstan.
Just imagine how many more people living with HIV in the country will now be able to get treatment thanks to a reduction of prices to corresponding international levels.
This does not only mean good quality meds for those in need; it also means reducing the amount of new HIV infections, and a better quality lives for people with HIV and their families.
The changes in patent laws could foreseeably bring savings for the national healthcare system and expansion of services, not just for HIV but other health conditions as well.
Kyrgyzstan just gave us an example how civil society and responsible legislators can trigger positive social change.
As part of the HIV, Health and Development Team at UNDP, I am very happy that we supported these efforts through consultations, technical support and trainings.
There are many more problems to overcome and much more work ahead – but the future looks promising.