Cape Town, 12 December 2003 — Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) encourages the South African government to make full use of the possibilities to facilitate access to cheaper antiretrovirals opened by an agreement reached on 10 December. The agreement reached between the Treatment Action Campaign and the two pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and BoehringerIngelheim (BI), obliges GlaxoSmithKline to grant four licences in South Africa allowing generic companies to produce, distribute, sell, export and/or import two of its antiretroviral drugs, zidovudine (AZT) and lamivudine (3TC), while Boehringer Ingelheim will issue three licences for its drug nevirapine. The agreement covers both public and private sectors and – importantly – also allows generics produced in South Africa to be exported to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
“The South African Government needs to grab the opportunity to promptly implement its treatment plan using the possibilities this agreement brings,” said Dr. Eric Goemaere, head of the MSF programs in South Africa. “This should include government regulation of local production of antiretroviral drugs. Successful national HIV/AIDS programmes – such as the ones in Brazil and Thailand – have shown that government control over production and prices of drugs is key to achieving fast access to affordable quality medicines. The government should also ensure that licensees produce or import three-in-one pills to simplify treatment.”
MSF currently provides antiretroviral therapy to 700 people with AIDS in Khayelitsha. Using generic versions of zidovudine, lamivudine and nevirapine, MSF is paying less than half the price offered by the originator companies to public sector. These prices could still drop further if the most recent offers of generic companies were applied.
“The latest price offers of generic companies for three-in-one formulations go as low as USD140/year” said Cecile Macé, senior MSF pharmacist. “Beyond the obvious advantages for adherence and prevention of resistance, this offer simply saves a lot of money – a critical factor for a national treatment plan the size of the South African one.”
GSK and BI were brought to this settlement following the decision of the South African Competition Commission on 16 October of this year, which found the two companies culpable of charging excessive prices on antiretrovirals for the treatment of HIV and abusing their patents in a way that restricts access to these life-extending medicines. As a result of the agreement reached this week the complainants have dropped the case before the Competition Commission.
MSF is committed to collaborating with the South African government to ensure patients get the best possible outcome from this agreement.