Nairobi, 7 November 2000 — Last week, a Kenyan newspaper* reported that negotiations have finally started between the Kenyan government and five international pharmaceutical companies, to reduce the price of anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines by up to 85%, and to offer some HIV/AIDS drugs free of charge. The high price of HIV/AIDS drugs is a huge problem in Kenya, where 50% of its total population is living below the poverty line.
However, the Kenya Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines today warned that the Kenyan Government needs to carefully examine the extent of the reductions and the impact that this could have on more long-term access to life-saving medicines. The Government should be guided by the fact that a generic manufacturer (CIPLA of India) has offered to provide US quality approved anti-retrovirals at between US$ 800-1000 per person per year. If the big pharmaceutical companies give an 85% reduction on the current global price of US$ 15,000 per patient per year, as announced publicly in May, then the price would be US$ 2,250. This means that twice as many patients would be able to be treated in Kenya by using medicines supplied by the Indian manufacturer than with the big pharmaceutical company offer which is being negotiated.
In order to have the right to import these affordable medicines, Kenya would need to issue compulsory licenses to override patents, which is their right within international trade law (TRIPS within WTO). According to the law, inexpensive generic drugs can be legally manufactured locally or imported (cfr. stipulations on ‘governmental use’ and ‘compulsory licensing’ provided by the Kenyan Industrial Property Act, 1989). Negotiations on price cuts should never substitute these rights or hamper the implementation of these provisions.
The Kenyan Coalition points out that the price cuts coincide with upcoming discussions about a new Industrial Property Bill, 2000. This Bill should create opportunities to improve access to cheaper drugs by softening the conditions for compulsory licensing and by introducing parallel imports, all of which are legal under international WTO TRIPS law. Price negotiations should not compromise any proposed amendments to the Bill, 2000, which are in favor of access to drugs.
Therefore, the Kenya Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines encourages the Kenyan government and UNAIDS to recognize that although there could be short term benefits from the deal, these could be outweighed by negative consequences in the long run, unless serious efforts are made to stimulate generic production of anti-retroviral drugs by local manufacturers and/or to import inexpensive drugs. The introduction of generic drugs will increase competition and will lead according to general market rules, to considerable price reductions.
In addition, the reported negotiations also raise questions, which need clarification:
Are there any conditions or limitations put on the Kenyan government in exchange for the deal?
Is the time limit for the offer? This is important given that these AIDS drug cocktails must be taken for life.
Also, how would they chose those who would benefit from the donations?
Although price reductions could bring some short-term relief, the coalition calls for more transparency of the negotiations between the government and the pharmaceutical companies, to ensure that the deal does not trade in long-term rights. So far, negotiations are happening behind closed doors, with no reports of what is being negotiated. Given that this is a life or death issue affecting the health and life expectancy of thousands, the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines, which represents AIDS patients, members of civil society and legal and medical associations, ion asks to be given the possibility to follow the negotiations as an observer.
* The Nation, Wednesday 1st November 2000: “Big Cut Offers New Lease of Life for AIDS Sufferers, Benefits Expected from Drugs Deal” by Gitura Mwaura
The Kenyan Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines is a network of associations, people living with AIDS, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, journalists and other individuals advocating for the improvement of access to essential medicines for all in Kenya. The coalition includes amongst others the following organizations: Action Aid, FIDA, 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, Innovative Lawyering, International Federation of Women Lawyers - Kenya (FIDA), Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), DACASA, Pharmaciens sans Frontieres (PSF), Kenyan Medical Association (KMA).