Health activists have welcomed the Department of Trade and Industry’s latest draft intellectual property policy, released for public comment last week, saying it contains important reforms that will make life-saving medicines cheaper and more widely available. Key proposals include closer scrutiny of patent applications, simpler mechanisms for issuing compulsory licences, and tightening up on the criteria for granting patents. Without these reforms, many medicines for cancer, hepatitis, tuberculosis and mental health will remain unaffordable or unavailable in SA, said the Fix the Patent Laws coalition. It cited the hepatitis B medicine Entecavir as an example of a medicine that is too costly for the state, and available only to a limited number of patients in the private sector, where a month’s supply costs R5,500. The same drug is available in India at less than a 10th of the price, said the coalition. "SA is definitely heading towards … a more assertive stance to getting medicines...

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