East Africa Crisis Revives Aid Patent Debate

    A pack of Plumpy'nut. Photo by: Mack Male / CC BY-SA

    As the international community continues to scramble to respond to the crisis in East Africa and prevent it from worsening, some members of the humanitarian community are reviving a long-standing debate over the patent for the widely used food supplement Plumpy’nut.

    The Plumpy’nut patent limits the number of companies in North America and Europe that can manufacture this ready-to-use therapeutic food. Meanwhile, it allows companies in poor countries to produce it, but they are mostly unable to make it inexpensively or in large amounts to meet rising global demands. This setup has made Plumpy’nut more expensive than most developing countries can afford, the Christian Science Monitor notes.

    There have been measures put in place to boost Plumpy’nut production and meet increasingly growing demands in East Africa. The patent, for instance, was relaxed temporarily in Kenya, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

    Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is engaged in the East African crisis response, has welcomed this “gesture” but stressed the “patent is definitely a barrier.” MSF has been a vocal opponent of the patent, which is currently held by Nutriset, the Christian Science Monitor notes.

    Owen Barder of the Center for Global Development, a U.S.-based think tank, has also argued for the removal of the patent. He noted that while it is important to support local development, which is one reason cited by supporters of the patent, efforts to do so should not take precedence over quick response to grave crises such as the famine in Somalia.

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    About the author

    • Ivy Mungcal

      As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.