Stakeholders have called for an open license for the generic production of HIV and hepatitis C drugs to allow low and middle-income countries access to lifesaving drugs.
The stakeholders made the call at a press briefing organised by AIDS HealthCare Foundation on Tuesday, in Abuja.
The Country Program Director, AHF Nigeria Dr Echey Ijezie, called on Gilead, a pharmaceutical company based in the United States to stop evergreening patents on HIV and AIDS drugs like Truvada.
Ijezie said the company had priced several of its HIV and hepatitis C drugs out of reach for many people, by refusing to register some drugs in developing countries.
Ijezie said Gilead which was listed among the 15 largest biopharmaceutical firms in the world, puts profit before people’s lives.
The Country Program Director said, “Gilead should open the license for the generic production of the hepatitis C drug to allow middle and low-income countries to have access without exception. They should license the technology for the production of treatment for cryptococcal meningitis to generic manufacturers among others.”
Director for Advocacy and Marketing for Africa Breau AHF, Ms Oluwkemi Gbadamosi, said Gilead should be held accountable for placing a price on the most effective, modern, and lifesaving medicines
“The research and development are often funded by U.S. taxpayers, but for their generosity, the public is rewarded with astronomical drug prices. For example, a highly effective hepatitis C drug cost $1,000 per pill and a 12-week course of treatment has a retail price of over $90,000 in the U.S.
“A generic version of the same drug cost only $4 per pill in India, but according to Medecins Sans Frontieres, Gilead has excluded 50 middle-income countries from access to the generic discounted price. These excluded countries like Jamaica, Tunisia, the Philippines, Ukraine, and Venezuela among others.”
She said over the years Gilead had been criticised for blocking access to affordable treatment of cryptococcal meningitis, a deadly fungi disease that often affects people living with HIV.
“Gilead holds a patent on the technology needed to produce the drug; therefore generic manufacturers cannot produce it at a lower cost. Gilead has promised but failed to deliver on a commitment to provide the drug to 116 countries at $16 per vial and has not even registered the drugs in these countries, but relying on local suppliers.
“Gilead has generated billions of dollars in profit by maintaining a monopoly on some of the most effective and well-tolerated antiretroviral drugs. In 2016 when the estimated cost of Atripla in the developing world was around $100 per patient per year, the U.S. government paid $30,000 per patient, per year for the same drug,” she added.
On her part, the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV/AIDS, Ms Amber Erinunwinhe, said the lives of people must matter first before profiteering hence calling on Gilead to end its monopolistic behaviour and ensure the license for generic production was made available.
“We must look at the lives of people, the people you are producing these drugs for should be the number one before your profit. This is because if the lives are not there tomorrow, I don’t think they would make a such profit, and am happy the advocacy is not just Nigeria but a global one,” she said.
Advocacy Specialist, Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria, Micheal Edoh called on the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research to wake up to more research in producing local vaccines for the citizens.
He further applauded AHF for taking the lead in the advocacy by ensuring millions of people especially the community of persons living with HIV and AIDS have access to lifesaving medication.