Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Pharmaceuticals

Drug patents cause fresh spat between South Africa and industry

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 07 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1377
  1. Andrew Jack, deputy editor, analysis
  1. 1Financial Times, London, UK
  1. andrew.jack{at}

An embarrassing leak of the drug industry’s lobbying plans against patent reforms has led to cries of “genocide” from South Africa’s health minister. Andrew Jack reports from Cape Town

Nearly 15 years after the pharmaceutical industry was accused of unwisely picking a fight with Nelson Mandela over affordable access to medicines, it is at the centre of a fresh spat concerning patents in South Africa.

Last month, Aaron Motsoaledi, the health minister, accused drug companies of “genocide” after seeing their plans to campaign against draft government proposals on intellectual property reforms. “This document can sentence many South Africans to death,” he told the Mail & Guardian.1

The inflammatory rhetoric has made industry executives and even some activists squirm, yet it comes against the backdrop of spring elections in which the ruling African National Congress is fighting to retain its political dominance.

It also reflects a broader international battle over intellectual property rights, pitching industry claims that tougher patent rules will encourage investment and innovation against patient organisations, which argue that they restrict competition and keep prices unaffordably high.

The latest feud has already had repercussions for industry, with Novo Nordisk, the …

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