Today, TAC activists protested at a Bristol-Myers Squibb presentation in Bellville.
This is the reason why:
On the 14th of March, multinational pharmaceutical company, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), announced that it would reduce the combined price of two anti-retroviral medicines didanosine (ddI, brand-name is Videx) and stavudine (d4T, brand-name is Zerit) to US$1 (approx. R8) per day in sub-Saharan Africa. It turns out the offer was a public relations stunt, designed to alleviate activist and legal pressure. BMS have indicated that the price reduction is available only to governments and NGOs. However, no sub-Saharan African government distributes anti-retrovirals as part of triple-drug therapy, and there is no NGO in South Africa with the capacity to administer triple-drug therapy to a significant number of people. The reduction is not being made in the private sector, which is the only place where anti-retrovirals are readily available. At least one company which distributes anti-retrovirals with no mark-up, only a prescription fee, has been spurned by BMS when they enquired about the price reduction. Dr Steve Andrews, a GP in Cape Town who is angered by BMS's failure to deliver on the price reduction, said "I have patients who are dying because they cannot afford to buy these medicines."
The Treatment Action Campaign considered the BMS price reduction a major victory for activists. It would have saved lives. The price reduction would have brought one triple-drug therapy regimen (ddI, d4T and efavirenz) to less than R1000 per month, still too much for most South Africans, but within the range of many middle-class people and workers on medical aid. Even if the sero-prevalence ratio of the approximately 7 million South Africans on medical aid is much lower than the whole population, many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people would have been able to consider commencing highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART). Some of the few thousand people currently on HAART would have experienced much-needed financial relief.
Instead, drug companies continue to make false offers. This is further evidence that they are not to be trusted. Only competition from generic suppliers will create a sustainable mechanism for reducing the prices of essential patented medicines to affordable levels. Furthermore, the South African Rand, like most of the world's currencies has recently weakened significantly against the US dollar. Even if the US$1 a day offer were to be implemented, the price in African countries will steadily rise. Only local production and importation from countries whose currencies are less volatile against local currencies can negate this problem.
BMS is the World's Worst Patent Abuser
James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology has submitted an affidavit on behalf of TAC in the Medicines Act court case, which describes how BMS makes huge profits by patenting medicines developed with public money. BMS market eleven drugs developed by the US based National Cancer Institute (NCI), a publicly funded body, while BMS's nearest rivals only market two NCI developed drugs. BMS also hold the patent on an essential medicine used for treating Karposi Sacoma, called Taxol, in which they did no invest any research and development. BMS are arguably the worst patent abuser of all pharmaceutical companies. They have the ignominy of being the world's worst patent abuser among pharmaceutical companies.
Yale University and NIH Must Demonstrate Sincerity
Yale University and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the patent-holders on ddI and d4T, must demonstrate that they are not part of this BMS publicity stunt by issuing a legally binding statement that the licenses for these medicines are available to any generic manufacturer with the knowledge and capacity to develop and distribute them. TAC acknowledges that Yale and the NIH may charge a small undifferentiated royalty fee to manufacturers, on condition that this money is re-invested into research on diseases affecting the third-world.
TAC calls on activists around the world to step up the pressure against BMS, Yale University and the NIH, until the original price offer is implemented and ddI and d4T licenses are issued to generic manufacturers. BMS must not be allowed to get away with murder.
TAC also calls on generic manufacturers of ddI and d4T to immediately apply for compulsory licenses on these medicines.
Quotations from the BMS statement on their website:
"TRANSPARENT PRICING -- The prices of products offered under the ACCESS program will be fully public. Under this program, the company's medicines to treat HIV/AIDS -- the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors Videx and Zerit -- will be available in every country in Africa that wishes to participate at a price of one dollar per day -- 15 cents per day for Zerit and 85 cents per day for Videx. These prices are below cost."
DRUGS BELOW COST -- The company will now make its two AIDS medicines, Videx® (didanosine) and Zerit® (stavudine), available in African countries at even lower prices -- below cost -- under its existing ACCESS partnership program with international agencies,including UNAIDS, World Health Organization, World Bank, UNICEF and U.N. Population Fund.
"EMERGENCY PATENT RELIEF -- The company will ensure that its patents do not prevent inexpensive HIV/AIDS therapy in Africa. The patent for Zerit, rights to which are owned by Yale University and Bristol-Myers Squibb, will be made available at no cost to treat AIDS in South Africa under an agreement the company has recently concluded with Yale. The company has no other patent rights in Africa which it will allow to prevent AIDS therapy there."