Pharma accused of restricting access to hep C drug in poor countries

New drugs for hepatitis C are a major breakthrough but hugely expensive in rich countries. Pharma giant Gilead will allow cheap copies to be made for poor countries – but only for patients with proof of identification and citizenship and the drug supplies will be closely tracked

The battle over access to the new hepatitis C drug, Gilead’s sofosbuvir (and similar drugs coming along behind) is hotting up. There is angst even in the richest countries over the $ 1000 a pill price tag. It now looks as though Gilead is going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that cheaper versions, which it is permitting generic companies to make for poor countries, do not arrive in affluent world pharmacies.

Gilead has agreed to grant voluntary licences to eleven Indian generic companies, which means the drug will be sold at a reduced price in low-income countries. But Médecins Sans Frontières, the volunteer doctors who are treating hepatitis C infection in some of the poorest regions, say the company has imposed unacceptable conditions.

designing measures to ensure that these high value curative medicines are not diverted from their intended recipients – patients in need. The measures implemented will be the result of a consultative process and needs assessment involving multiple stakeholders, and continue to evolve to address the needs of all concerned in delivering care.

is unprecedented with respect to the invasiveness and impact it will have on medical providers and patients. To our knowledge, no company, including Gilead, has ever put in place such a programme in the past.

We disagree that diversion of medicines is a valid concern – such claims harken back to the rhetoric of the multinational pharmaceutical industry over a decade ago with its stance towards the production and use of low-cost anti-retroviral medicines in developing countries to treat HIV and AIDS, in the face of a large-scale epidemic. Even if diversion was a valid concern, imposing heavy, unethical burdens on patients and doctors is not acceptable and not a solution.

Gilead’s anti-diversion measures contradict their stand on improving access to crucial HCV [hepatitis C] medicines, and is, arguably, a violation of the right to health. The responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies in relation to ensuring access to essential medicines as a part of the human right to health under international law are well-established. Gilead’s responsibility to respect the right to health requires it to refrain from adopting policies that negatively impact access to medicines such as the proposed anti-diversion measures.

Now is the time to make sure as many people as possible can be treated and cured of hepatitis C, not to look for ways to restrict people’s access to treatment and overburden drug dispensers with rules that are unnecessary. Gilead’s actions are unacceptable.

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Pharmaceuticals industry | The Guardian

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