New Agreement on Patents for Medicines in Francophone Africa Threatens Health of Populations

MSF Calls Upon the Francophone Countries of Africa Not to Sign the New Patent Agreements (Bangui 99)

Abidjan/New York, May 11, 2000 — In a press conference today in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called on 15 French-speaking African countries1 not to sign the revised regional trade agreement (Bangui 99). A joint report2 released by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS and MSF warns of the negative consequences of such an agreement on access to essential medicines.

The revised arrangement relating to intellectual property (Bangui 99) reinforces the monopoly given to patent-holders beyond existing requirements in international trade rules and would cause a major obstacle to access to medicines. It also discourages the transfer of technology necessary for the development of the regional pharmaceutical industry and threatens to increase dependence on imports of medicines.

"Doctors in Africa are increasingly faced with a lack of life-saving medicines--either because they are too expensive, or because they do not exist. The revised Bangui Agreement means Francophone countries in Africa will no longer be able to shop around for the cheapest medicines, nor will they be able to produce drugs locally," said Bernard Pécoul, M.D., director of the MSF Access to Essential Medicines Campaign.

During the process of revising Bangui, extensive technical assistance was provided by international organizations. Yet, the advice did not lead to the inclusion of the flexible use of safeguard features recommended by US President Clinton, French President Chirac and WHO Director General Dr. Brundtland, such as parallel imports and compulsory licensing. MSF demands that technical assistance that is offered to countries to change their laws takes into consideration the public health needs of developing countries and the advice of world leaders.

The joint MSF-WHO-UNAIDS report shows that, in addition to extending the duration of patents to 20 years, in accordance with international intellectual property rules (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights)3, the new Bangui agreement is more restrictive than necessary under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, in that:

  • it imposes stricter conditions on the use of compulsory licenses.
  • it prohibits parallel imports from countries outside the 15-country-bloc involved.

"The new rules mean the price of medicines will be 10 to 20 times more than they would be if they were generic. For people suffering from AIDS or other serious infections such as meningitis or pneumonia, this is basically a death sentence," added Dr. Pécoul.

MSF therefore makes the following recommendations to the States affected:

  • Do not sign the Bangui Accord of 1999 in its current form.
  • Revise the agreement before signing.
  • Allow the ten "least developed" countries that qualify for another 5 year "transition period" (until 2006) under WTO rules not to revise their laws until then.

In addition MSF recommends that the expertise of WHO be sought in the revision of the agreement to ensure that the interests of public health are preserved.

If the protection of pharmaceutical innovation is essential to public health, then so is the affordability of medicines.


1) Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

2) "Review of the Pharmaceutical Policy in Cameroon: Medicine Patents in Francophone Africa," Boulet, Pascale and Forte, Gilles Bernard Joint Mission MSF-WHO-UNAIDS. (Report available in English and French).

3) Right of governments to produce locally or import a medicine that is still under patent, while respecting certain obligations to patent holders.