15 January 2015

A Health Policy Action Fund (HPAF) grant to HEPS in 2012 supported its work to safeguard public health through full use of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities in Uganda.

CSO work in Uganda: Safeguarding public health through TRIPS

IHP+ established the Health Policy Action Fund (HPAF) small grants programme to strengthen civil society engagement in national health policy, monitoring and accountability. Oxfam managed the fund and HPAF supported 23 grants to Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in developing countries, in two rounds of funding in 2010 and 2012. A new round of funding will be given in 2015.

HEPS encourages policies which promote and protect importers and manufacturers of generic medicines in order to increase access to affordable medicines for poor and vulnerable citizens in the long term.

The project brought together 40 civil society organizations (CSOs) under the umbrella of the Uganda Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines (UCAEM). The coalition advocates for consumer-friendly health laws and policies at all levels through policy analysis, research, policy formulation and monitoring policy implementation.

The project specifically focused on influencing development of an Intellectual Property (IP) policy framework for the country to ensure that IP policies fully use the flexibilities set out in the TRIPS Agreement. HEPS reports that the HPAF grant supported the project to contribute to the enactment of IP policies that fully utilise TRIPS flexibilities in the Industrial Property Act and the Anti Counterfeiting Goods Bill. The project successfully influenced the Industrial Property Bill and it was passed into law in August 2013, incorporating all recommendations by HEPS and the CSO Coalition group on IP rights. The Act was passed by the President on 6 January 2014. The Act incorporates TRIPS flexibilities and Uganda now has a law that promotes the production and importation of generic medicines.

HEPS also say that the grants allowed them to participate in the drafting of the regulations and ensure that public health interests were maintained in the regulations that will make the Industrial Property Act operational. It also helped them lobby and bring onboard the Ministry of Health, which originally was not involved in the drafting process.

HEPS lessons learnt

1. The media plays a key role in attracting legislators’ attention. HEPS trained journalists in IP rights and public health, which helped to popularize the issues, and raise awareness among a wide range of stakeholders.

2. Simplifying IP rights issues and using innovative ways to reach legislators is more likely to get their interest. Most legislators were not interested in issues to do with IP because they were so technical. HEPS used documentaries and comic booklets with simplified messages to communicate complex issues about the politics of IP and public health.

3. Continuing engagement with legislators until the very last minute ensures that the issues are fresh in their minds so they can better articulate public health issues during the debate in Parliament.

4. Establishing a good working relationship with the officials who were drafting the IP-related Act helped HEPS to access important information.

5. Working as a coalition contributes to the success of advocacy campaigns.

6. Involving different stakeholders in IP rights campaigns is integral to their success. For example, academia, agricultural and health sectors are all affected by IP and involving them all in campaigning creates a broad base and voice for advocacy. 

HPAF Stories of Change 

In these short, ‘Stories of Change’ below four CSOs share their experiences and lessons learned from their work through the HPAF grant. 

Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA) received two HPAF grants in 2010 and 2012. The grants supported civil society’s ability to engage in policy development processes. It helped bring CSOs together to speak with one voice to the Ministry of Health on the implementation of national health policies.

Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS Uganda) received one HPAF grant in 2012 to supported their work to safeguard public health through full use of Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities in Uganda. 

Health Rights Advocacy Forum (HERAF) in Kenya received one HPAF grant in 2012 to empower CSOs and citizens to understand proposed health legislations and engage with the Government and development partners on healthy policy issues. 

Rahnuma- Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP) received one HPAF grant in 2012 to support advocacy for Provincial Health Policies in Punjab & Sindh Provinces to include adolescent and youth reproductive health concerns.

Article photo: A health care worker at Fort Portal Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda counts Co-trimoxazole tablets for clients enrolled on Option B-Plus for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT). © 2013 Jessica Ziegler/URC-CHS, Courtesy of Photoshare

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