Overview of the Human Rights and Access to Medicines Legal Education Initiative

Last month, I traveled to South Africa to launch a new Human Rights and Access to Medicines Legal Education Initiative. The objectives of the Initiative, which is sponsored by the Open Society Institute, is to create (1) an annual short course on Human Rights and Access to Medicines at the University of Pretoria's Center for Human Rights, and (2) a student advocacy project to assist advocates develop human rights strategies to complement and amplify access to medicines campaigns.

1. Co-Teaching


The project recruited co-teachers to assist plan and teach the short course on Human Rights and Access to Medicines. Co-teachers were selected based both on their current expertise in the topic as well as their desire to gain further expertise and develop their own teaching programs in other countries. Ultimately, I planned and taught the course with six co-teachers:

  • Dr Ben Twinomugisha, Makerere University, Uganda, is a senior professor with a deep background in human rights and globalization issues. Dr. Twinomugisha sits on the board of a health and human rights NGO in Uganda and is interested in partnering on advocacy projects in the future.
  • Barrister Shipi Gowok, Jimma University, Ethiopia, hails from Nigeria and currently teaches and serves as the Dean of the School of Law at Jimma University in Ethiopia.
  • Mr Enga Kameni, Center for the Study of AIDS, Namibia, is a practitioner who did his LLM in Trade and Investment Law at Pretoria and is currently engaged in African civil society campaigns engaging with the WHO IGWG process.
  • Dr Atangcho Akonumbo, University of Yaounde, Cameroon, has taught a course on access to medicines for several years in Cameroon and brings an expertise in OAPI and the Bangui agreement.
  • Mr Michael (Patrick) Eba, AIDS and Human Rights Research Unit, University of Pretoria, holds an LLM in Human Rights Law from the University of Pretoria and is the designated supervisor of the Human Rights and Access to Medicines clinical group created for this project.
  • Mr Jonathan Berger, Aids Law Project, South Africa, is a preeminent expert in access to medicines issues in South Africa.
2. Design of Access to Medicines Short Course

Through a collaborative enterprise with all the co-teachers, the project designed an intensive 1-week short course on access to medicines, taught 12-16 May 2008. The syllabus for the course is publicly available. [Click Here]

The co-teachers are currently discussing the potential of editing and publishing the assigned materials in an Access to Medicines Reader specifically for an African audience.

3. Creation of Human Rights and Access to Medicines Clinical Group

Pretoria created its first Human Rights and Access to Medicines Clinical Group in February. The group of three students spent the first several months creating two background research papers:

  • an 11-page bibliography of access to medicines background materials, including international and regional treaties, citations to African IP legislation, published papers and books, government and multilateral agency reports and regional case law;
  • an 18 page background white paper on Access To Medicines In Africa: Exploring The Potential Role Of The African Commission On Human And Peoples' Rights
Both papers and now being peer reviewed by the co-teachers of the course and will be finalized and web-published by the student team.

4. Strategy Meetings with Advocates

Before and during the teaching of the short course, the co-teachers met together with access to medicines advocates including representatives of ARASA (by phone), the Aids Law Project and government and NGO officials attending the course.

The engagement of advocacy discussions with course attendees proved to be an extraordinarily effective endeavor and provides a strong justification for conducting such courses as part of an overall advocacy strategy. Specifically, discussions with course attendees led to the following observations and partnership possibilities:

  • Two Zambian parliamentarians attended the course and expressed an interest in working with the clinical project on the legislature's current effort to amend the Zambian Constitution. Specifically, the parliamentarians would like advice on crafting the right to health being considered by the parliament. The parliamentarians also work on a SADC intergovernmental committee and believe the forum would be a good one to introduce a special workshop for parliamentarians on access to medicines issues as they relate to the need to review and change legislation in SADC communities.
  • Many African competition laws have explicit exemptions for IP. Thus, competition based compulsory licenses, including to enable more liberal exports, will often require either use of a competition ground outside of the basic competition law or amendment of the basic competition law. This observation may suggest the desirability of further technical assistance and advocacy work around competition norms and laws in Africa.
  • In Uganda, there is a draft competition law being considered that currently contains an exemption for IP owners. Dr Ben Twinomugisha, of Makerere University, Uganda, has expressed an interest with working with our clinical project to explore a legislative strategy to remove the IP exemption.
5. Teaching of Short Course

The short course on Human Rights and Access to Medicines was taught to 46 students and practitioners May 12-16, 2008. The participants included LLM students from 21 African countries and government officials, academics, parliamentarians and NGO activists from throughout Africa.

6. Looking Forward

The project is now looking forward to further developing the advocacy component of the course and to reviewing and evaluating the short course materials. We are currently considering three advocacy projects that arose out of the course and our strategy sessions with advocates:

  • Aiding the Zambian parliamentarians suggest language for the country's new right to health constitutional clause;
  • Working with Ugandan advocates to oppose an IP carve out in their competition law;
  • Developing a submission to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights requesting the Commission to initiate a study group on human rights and access to medicines in Africa.
The project is also currently considering the creation of a published access to medicines reader based on the materials that were gathered for the course.

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