The East African Community (EAC) states recently adopted a policy on utilising the WTO-TRIPS flexibilities on public health. The policy spells out a number of flexibilities and the minimum standards thereof to be enacted in domestic legislation. This study critically reviews this policy. In doing this, the study notes that the EAC member states, like most developing states, have very low per capita income levels. The people are too poor to afford expensive medicines. At the same time, these countries are faced with peculiar, region-specific diseases, the so-called ‘African diseases.’ Already, these diseases have been neglected by foreign pharmaceuticals reluctant to invest in developing medicines for poor markets. There are no established pharmaceuticals in the EAC states.
It is against this background that this research makes an argument against the aforementioned policy. It will be demonstrated that the policy is biased towards ensuring access to medicines through price-reduction, at the expense of patent protection. This approach is inappropriate because: first, given the absence of market incentives to invest in developing medicines for African diseases, the policy will only worsen the already bad situation since it undermines the strongest alternative incentive (patent protection); and second, such a policy will not only discourage foreign pharmaceuticals further but also suppress domestic pharmaceutical activity, which is undoubtedly necessary in view of the growing neglect of African diseases by foreign pharmaceuticals.