NGOs denounce the lack of transparency in multi-national/ UNAIDS ARV drug deal for Kenya

NGOs act to treat patients and call on big pharmaceutical companies to lower prices as promised.
Nairobi: February 21, 2001 - At a press conference today in Nairobi, the Kenya Coalition of NGOs* denounced the lack of transparency in price negotiations between the big pharmaceutical companies, UNAIDS and the Kenyan government and called for the lowering of prices as promised. Millions of people throughout Africa are dying because of a lack of treatment. Unwilling to wait any longer to treat their patients, one of the NGOs, the AIDS orphanage Nyumbani, announced that they would put in an order for the drugs from generic manufacturers. Last week, CIPLA, the generic Indian manufacturer offered to sell a Triple-Therapy combination (D4T, 3TC and Nevirapine) of anti-retro-virals (ARVs) for 350$ per patient per year to MSF if then donated, and for 600 $ per patient per year to governments. Generic companies in Thailand and Brazil have also offered to sell AIDS drugs to governments around the world, but in many countries, the multi-nationals hold the patents and the sale monopolies. Since the pharmaceutical multi-nationals reduced their prices, the cheapest price they offer in Kenya for the same triple therapy combination which CIPLA is offering at 600$, comes to around $3,617 per patient per year. Unable to wait any longer for multi-national price reductions, and for clarity on the UNAIDS deal, Nyumbani, an AIDS orphanage and a member of the Kenya coalition of NGOs, today announced that it would be accepting a Brazilian government donation of AZT to treat its orphans. Nyumbani, will also place an offer for the ARV treatment offered by CIPLA. This is a first time since CIPLA announced its offer, that an African NGO is placing an order, and the first time in Kenya that a Brazilian donation will be accepted by an NGO. The Kenya Coalition called on the government and UNAIDS to take advantage of generic offers like CIPLA and Brazil. Under Kenyan laws, the use of generics medicines, even when they are under patent, is allowed, when "vital public interest" like AIDS is at stake. The Kenya Coalition of NGOs called on the Kenya government and UNAIDS to take advantage of this offer and of existing laws. On March 5th, 42 pharmaceutical companies will take the South African government to court for among other things, promoting the use of generic medicines to fight AIDS and its opportunistic infections. For NGOs in South Africa and Kenya, the basic right to health and cheap, quality treatment must take precedent over corporate protection of patents and profit margins and political support by donors and governments is needed. Last May, Merck & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Roche, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, and Boehringer-Ingelheim, offered to reduce the prices for AIDS medicine by up to 85% to nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Before price reduction, the typical annual cost for the AIDS-drug cocktails in the U.S. and Europe was $10,000 to $15,000 per patient. Even at a price reduction of 85%, without donor support, the price of treatment is still well out of reach for the average Kenyan, earning $270 per year, in a country where the annual per capita spending on health is 3$. Negotiations between the companies, UNAIDS and the Kenya government reportedly started in January of this year, but there has been no information on how the negotiations are going. Since then, doctors around Kenya have been receiving faxes of price reductions in ARV treatment, direct from the companies, without any clarity as to whether these are the final price reductions being offered. Although Boehringer-Ingelheim has lowered Nevirapine by 80%, a bringing it in line with the CIPLA offer, other companies have not gone as far. Glaxos AZT, 3TC and Combivir have only been reduced by 20-50%, while other companies have done even less. It is estimated that there are around 4.2 million people infected with HIV in East Africa. 2.1 million live in Kenya, 820,000 in Uganda, and 1.3 million in Tanzania. Only around 1,000 HIV patients in Kenya are estimated to be on ARV treatment through the private sector. With a choice of cheap, quality ARV drugs, more lives could be saved.
* The Kenya Coalition of NGOs on Access to Medicines includes: Action Aid, The Association of People living with AIDS in Kenya (TAPWAK), Network for people living with HIV/AIDS (NEPHAK),Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK), Society for Women and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK), Health Action International (HAI Africa),Nyumbani, International Federation of Women Lawyers - Kenya (FIDA), Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), DACASA, Pharmaciens sans Frontieres (PSF), Kenyan Medical Association (KMA), Consumers Information Network. ** In Kenya, D4T is also registered by CIPLA, 3TC is patented by Glaxo, and Nevirapine by Boehringer-Ingelheim.