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Stakeholders task firm on patent right for HIV, hepatitis drugs

By Guardian Nigeria
06 April 2023   |   2:38 am
Stakeholders have demanded an open license for the generic production of HIV and hepatitis C drugs to allow low and middle-income countries access to lifesaving drugs.

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on November 30, 2012, a Cambodian doctor (R) offers Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drugs to a woman (L) who is living with HIV, at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital in Phnom Penh. – HIV-related deaths last year fell to around 770,000 — some 33 percent lower than in 2010 — the United Nations said July 15, 2019, but warned that global efforts to eradicate the disease were stalling as funding dries up. An estimated 37.9 million people now live with HIV — a record 23.3 million of those have access to some antiretroviral therapy (ART), UNAIDS said in its annual report. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)

Stakeholders have demanded 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 this known at a press briefing organised by AIDS HealthCare Foundation (AHF), in Abuja.

Dr Echey Ijezie, Country Program Director, AHF Nigeria called on Gilead, a pharmaceutical company based in the United States to stop evergreening patent on HID and AIDS drugs like Truvada.

According to Ijezie, 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.

He added that Gilead had consistently blocked attempts to introduce cheaper generic versions of its medicines, which should benefit humanity.

Ijezie said Gilead which was listed among the 15 largest biopharmaceutical firms in the world, puts profit before people’s lives, adding that in 2021, they generated over $27 billion in revenue.

The Country Program Director said the advocacy was a call by AHF on Gilead to open the license for the generic production of the hepatitis C drug Harvoni to allow middle and low income countries have access without exception.

“Thirdly, they should license the technology for the production of treatment for cryptococcal meningitis to generic manufacturers among others,’’ he said.

Ms Oluwkemi Gbadamosi, Director for Advocacy and Marketing for Africa Bereau AHF, said Gilead should be held accountable for placing a price on the most effective, modern and lifesaving medicines

She decried on the astronomical profit made by the big pharmaceutical companies at the expense of people’s lives.

According to her, Gilead is notorious for exploiting patent monopolies on blockbuster drugs to enrich itself and its shareholders.

“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 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.

“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.

The Advocacy Director said that for decades gilead had exacted a heavy toll on people living with HIV around the world by securing successive patent on tenofovir-based formulations for over two decades.

“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.

Ms Amber Erinunwinhe, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV/AIDS(NINERELA) said the group was standing strong on the advocacy in ensuring millions of people have access to affordable lifesaving drugs.

She said the lives of people must matter first before profiteering hence calling on gilead to end its monopolistic behavior and ensure the license for generic production was made available.

“It is important that we look at the lives of people, the people you are producing this 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 such profit, and am happy the advocacy is not just Nigeria but a global one.

Mr Micheal Edoh Advocacy Specialist, Network of people Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWAN) 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.

Mr Ade Atambi, Secretary, Alliance for the survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) said health was a fundamental right of citizens, and a social service that must be provided by the government.

“The governance system in all countries especially Nigeria must be serious with the business of government in making resources available to fund public health institutions.

“They must stop the narrative of partnering and privatizing with private sector but to advance the public sector in a manner that they are well funded for the citizens.

Stakeholders present at the event include; Nigeria Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV/AIDS (NINERELA) , Network of people Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWAN).

Others include; Alliance for the Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Civil Society for HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (CiSHAN) and Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP).

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