Patient groups march for access to medicines in South Africa

  • Draft policy must urgently be finalised and laws must be amended to save lives 

24 October 2017 – Pretoria – Today, more than 1,000 members of the Fix the Patent Laws Coalition (FTPL) will march to the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) in support of the government’s efforts to fix our patent laws and ensure everyone has access to the medicines they need.

Made up of 36 patient groups and civil society organisations representing most major diseases in South Africa, the Coalition will hand over its in-depth submission in support of the draft Intellectual Property Policy, which was released by the dti in August 2017, as well as a new report documenting the dire inaccessibility of many cancer medicines due to patent barriers.

The draft policy paves the way for a new, progressive intellectual property policy in South Africa, sixteen years after the signing of a critical international agreement, the Doha Declaration on Public Health, that confirmed countries’ ability to amend their laws to incorporate public health safeguards. Notably, for the first time, the draft is clear in its prioritisation of the Constitutionally guaranteed right of access to healthcare services, stating that the final policy must “first and foremost engender the ethos of the South African Constitution”.

“This process has been ongoing since at least 2009. We are encouraged that a final policy and actual changes to the law finally seem to be imminent. We march today to support the steps taken by the dti to protect public health, but also to remind the dti that lives depend on the rapid conclusion of this law reform process. Until the relevant Acts are amended, people will continue to suffer and die in South Africa because they can’t access affordable medicines”, says Claire Waterhouse, Access Campaign Advocacy Officer for Doctors Without Borders South Africa.

Sibongile Tshabalala, Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign says “we march in solidarity with all people who cannot access the medicines they need to give them a chance at life or to ease their suffering. We have lost comrades and friends simply because they couldn’t access the medicines they needed due to high prices driven by unwarranted patent monopolies.”

The march comes almost a year after the tragic passing of prominent FTPL activist, Tobeka Daki, a mother of two who had HER2+ breast cancer and was unable to access the medicine she needed, trastuzumab, due to its exorbitant price tag of almost R500,000 per year as a result of a protected patent monopoly held by its maker, Roche.

The cancer medicines report launched today highlights that the case of trastuzumab is not unique. Of the 24 cancer medicines examined in the report, 15 are available in India for less than half of the price offered in the South African private sector. In the most extreme case, a year’s supply of lenalidomide is priced at ZAR 882,000 in South Africa and less than ZAR 32,000 in India. The report confirms earlier research showing that South Africa grants large numbers of secondary patents that are often rejected in other countries – which is a critical factor driving the large price differences observed for the same medicines in South Africa and India.

While the new medicines report highlights the serious issues in accessing many cancer treatments as a result of South Africa’s current patent laws, this is only one disease of many facing these problems. People across the country suffering from diseases ranging from HIV and TB, to epilepsy, to mental illness are all affected by similar access problems as a result of patent barriers, and it is the widespread nature of this issue that make the finalisation of law reform all the more urgent.

“Luckily, it seems that the dti has woken up to the fact that it’s time to put people’s health over pharmaceutical profits. The cancer report indicates just how urgent this is, which is why we want to show our support for this draft IP policy. This is South Africa’s chance to be a global role model in this area and we are ready to push Parliament next year to make this a reality”, says Salomé Meyer of the Cancer Alliance.

“The FTPL submission to the dti highlights areas of encouraging progress while continuing to provide recommendations for improvement, to ensure that a pro-public health policy that advances human rights is finalised,” says Umunyana Rugege of SECTION27.


For media enquiries, please contact:

Lotti Rutter | Treatment Action Campaign | | 072 225 9675

Angela Makamure | Doctors Without Borders (MSF)| 084 977 7553




“Exploring patent barriers to cancer treatment access in South Africa: 24 medicine case studies”

The report is available at

The Cancer Alliance and Fix the Patent Laws today launched a new medicines report that outlines 24 specific cancer medicines that people have struggled to access as a result of patent barriers in South Africa.



The submission of the Fix the Patent Laws campaign is available at: 



The timeline is available at


About the Fix the Patent Laws Campaign:

The Fix the Patent Laws campaign is a joint coalition of 36 patient groups, including: AmaBele Belles’ Project Flamingo, Breast Course 4 Nurses, Breast Health Foundation (BHF),  Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Can-Sir, CanSurvive Cancer Support, Cape Mental Health (CMH), Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), DiabetesSA, Doctors without Borders (MSF), EpilepsySA, Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), Igazi Foundation, Lymphoedema Association of South Africa (LAOSA), Look Good Feel Better, Marie Stopes South Africa, Men’s Foundation, National Council Against Smoking, Oncology Nursing Association of SA, Pancreatic Cancer Network of SA, People Living With Cancer (PLWC), Pink Trees for Pauline, Pocket Cancer Support, Rainbows and Smiles, Reach for Recovery, Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders Alliance (SABDA), SECTION27, South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), South African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH), South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD Alliance), Stop Stock Outs Project (SSP), The Pink Parasol Project, The Sunflower Fund, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Vrede Foundation, and Wings of Hope.



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