Towards the effective utilisation of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights flexibilities to improve access to essential medicines in Ghana
Kuudogrme, Barbara Bangfudem
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Access to medicines is an essential component of the basic human right to health and a key determinant of the importance attached to the health care system of a country. It essentially entails the availability and acceptability of the essential medicines on the market and the ability of patients to afford such medicines when needed. Globally, countries face access to medicine challenges partly because of patents which undoubtedly accounts for excessive pricing of medicine. As such, efforts have been made to ensure the accessibility of medicines through the Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Beyond these interventions, it is incumbent on Members of the WTO to domesticate the flexibilities of the TRIPS Agreement before their utilisation because by their very nature, they cannot be self-executed. With an estimated population of 29.6 million, about 310 000 people in Ghana are living with HIV. The country’s health facilities record 40 per cent of outpatient visits each year and about 14 550 per 100 000 of the population are infected with tuberculosis with cancer on the rise. These diseases require medicines which are mostly patented yet Ghana has access to medicine problems despite the existence of a national health insurance system. Ghana has however not fully incorporated the TRIPS flexibilities in its national legislations and therefore unable to fully utilise the flexibilities as an option to access essential medicines. Questions therefore remain as to why and how Ghana can utilise the flexibilities to improve access to medicines. Based on an examination of the WTO’s patent system and legislations of Ghana, this mini- thesis contends that, the extent of incorporation of the flexibilities are inadequate due to the existence of lacunas in the Ghanaian legislations. Furthermore, a comparative assessment with South Africa supports an understanding that conditions are not ripe for full utilisation of all the flexibilities. It further argues that the utilisation of the TRIPS flexibilities by Ghana has been rendered ineffective due to administrative, political, economic and social challenges which adversely affects the full utilisation of the flexibilities incorporated and those yet to be incorporated. It is therefore important that Ghana adopts holistic approaches taking into consideration best practices if the TRIPS flexibilities must be effectively utilised. This mini-thesis concludes that, the TRIPS flexibilities are necessary for accessing essential medicines in Ghana to promote the right to health and that a review of Ghana’s current legislations to fully incorporate the TRIPS flexibilities and addressing other non-legal challenges are the required linchpin for effective utilisation of the TRIPS flexibilities.