Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Don't Wait for Big Pharma to Respect Human Rights

The Science and Development Network has an article commending the Brazilian government on its strategy for tackling HIV and AIDS. The country approached pharmaceutical companies in 2000, which is some time ago, and tried to put pressure on them to lower their prices. They made it clear that they could issue compulsory licences for Brazilian companies to produce generic versions of antiretroviral drugs that were still under patent.

This worked very well and the prices of drugs came down considerably. Brazil produced and imported some of the generic versions of drugs they needed. This is why the country was able to roll out antiretroviral therapy (ART) for everyone who needed it. Campaigners may have been fighting for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS but the real clincher seems to have been a threat to big pharma's ability to screw as much money out of people as possible.

Kenya is not as wealthy as Brazil and most of their money for ART comes from donors. However, far from producing or importing generic ART drugs, Kenya has passed a bill that makes it unlikely that generic drugs can be imported because the law is now fuzzy enough not to distinguish between generics and fakes. It would seem that the Kenyan government did this for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies rather than for the benefit of Kenyans.

I am surprised that donors are content to pay for overpriced drugs rather than putting some of the money into giving Kenya the capacity to produce generic versions of the drugs they need. In the long run, large scale rollout of ART will not be sustainable unless the price paid for the drugs comes down. If Kenya were to produce their own, that would go a long way towards making rollout sustainable and even feasible.

Around 30% of people requiring ART are currently receiving treatment. The plan is to have 100% of people on treatment by 2010. The number of people becoming infected with HIV continues to exceed the number of people being put on treatment. There are also plans to put people on treatment earlier, which will further raise the costs of the national treatment effort.

It's not that there isn't enough money, it's just that too much money is being charged for pharmaceutical products. This is a political and human rights battle and at present, Kenya is on the side of big multinational pharmaceutical companies, fighting for commercial interests and opposing Kenyan people's human rights.


No comments: