MSF fumes over HIV drug

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Colleta Dewa

 

Johannesburg - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is up in arms with Gilead Sciences, a US pharmaceutical corporation, accusing it of failing to fulfil its promise to make available an important drug that treats cryptococcal meningitis to people suffering from a life-threatening HIV-related infection.

MSF told The Southern Times that they want Gilead to honour its commitment, to prove its promise was more than just a public relations stunt.

According to MSF, Gilead announced its “access initiative” promising lower prices for the liposomal amphotericin B (L-AmB) drug in 116 developing countries in September 2018, but to date, it largely remains inaccessible.

 MSF said the pharmaceutical corporation registered the drug in only six of the 116 countries, and even where it is registered, the drug is unavailable at an affordable price for MSF and others.

The six countries include South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, India, and Thailand.

Although Gilead publicised their pledge to reduce the price of L-AmB to a “no-profit” price of US$16.25 (R233.21) per vial, the drug continues to be overpriced in many developing countries.

In South Africa, the drug is priced as high as US$200 or R2 870.27 per vial (at least $4,200 or R60 275.67 per full treatment course). In India, it is priced at $45 or R645.81 per vial (nearly $1,000 or R 14 351.35 per full treatment course). The full treatment course is typically seven days long.

MSF said national programmes and treatment providers were still unable to purchase the drug at the corporation’s promised price although Gilead continues to earn billions of dollars each year from global HIV drug sales.

The corporation reported US$14.6 billion in sales from global HIV drugs in 2018 alone.

“We are outraged that Gilead’s announcement to provide this lifesaving drug at a supposed ‘no profit’ price and expedite its registration appears to have been nothing more than a public relations stunt. The corporation has failed to make good on their promise to do more to help ensure the survival of people living with HIV affected by this deadly disease – it’s deplorable that they keep dragging their feet at the expense of peoples’ lives. Gilead must urgently honour their commitment to make L-AmB available for everyone who needs it, and quickly register the drug in high HIV-burden countries,” said Jessica Burry, MSF pharmacist.

L‑AmB is highly effective when used in combination with other medicines to treat cryptococcal meningitis, which is the second biggest killer of people living with HIV, after tuberculosis.

Cryptococcal meningitis is an infection of the brain, which if left untreated, results in an agonising death for people living with HIV. It kills more than 180,000 people every year, 75% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.

 It especially affects people living with HIV whose immune systems are severely suppressed, leaving them vulnerable to such deadly opportunistic infections.

 MSF says it treats the infection in all its HIV programmes, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Malawi, Myanmar and South Africa.

 

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