Geneva, 13 March 2000 — Today, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) demanded that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer dramatically reduce the price of a life-saving drug to treat an AIDS-related infection in poor countries. In a communication delivered to Pfizer today in 18 countries, MSF explicitly supported the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a non-governmental coalition of South African AIDS activists, in their call for Pfizer to lower the price of fluconazole or authorize sale of less expensive generic versions of the drug in South Africa.
"As physicians, we understand first-hand the frustration of watching people die of AIDS-related meningitis when we know that an effective medicine exists," says Bernard Pécoul, director of the MSF Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. "In South Africa, where one company holds exclusive marketing rights, the cost of fluconazole is nearly 15 times higher than in Thailand where the drug is not patent protected. People are dying because the price of the drug that can save them is too high."
Cryptococcal meningitis is the most common systemic fungal infection in HIV-positive people. Without treatment, life expectancy is less than one month. Ongoing treatment with fluconazole can extend and substantially improve the life of a person living with AIDS by several years.
In South Africa approximately 4.5 million people are currently infected with HIV and AIDS accounts for 100,000 deaths yearly. The daily dose (400 mg) of fluconazole needed to treat cryptococcal meningitis currently costs $17.84 USD, more than two times the daily wage of an average employed South African who earns just $7.69 USD. In Thailand, however, the daily dose of fluconazole costs just $1.20. It is illegal for any company other than Pfizer to sell or produce cheaper versions of fluconazole in South Africa because the company has exclusive marketing rights.
In a communication addressed to Pfizer, MSF stated: "People in poor countries should pay less for essential medicines. While we appreciate that patents can be an important motor of research and development funding, there must be a balance to ensure that people in developing countries have access to life-saving medicines."
MSF is conducting an international campaign to improve access to essential medicines in poor countries.