African Media Gets Smart on Big Pharma

The screening of two documentaries last month led to intense discussion over the growing debate surrounding intellectual property (IP) rights and drug pricing within big pharma. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and partner organizations arranged the screening for over 40 journalists in Kampala, Uganda, introducing them to the controversial topics to inspire further investigation and more comprehensive reporting.

Fire in the Blood and AHF-produced Your Money or Your Life provide a glimpse into a pharmaceutical industry that routinely spends billions to market its products, and in turn, blames inflated prices on enshrouded research and development costs. This places treatment out of reach for millions of people—particularly those in developing countries. Problematic IP practices contribute to the issue since companies can lockdown the generic drug market – including lifesaving medications for HIV – for decades.

“This is such an important issue for which we have little information,” said Esther Nakazzi, Executive Director of the Health Journalists Union of Uganda. “Now that we know AHF and partners are working on this, we’ll seek out more information. Our people need to know what is happening on the local, regional and global scenes.”

Industry practices related to drug pricing and IP have not reached many media members or local communities in developing countries. Since little is known, there is limited public outcry from the African people demanding lower prices for medicine.

“This is an area we must investigate more. In fact, we need training to develop a deeper understanding of the issues, so that as we investigate, we are doing so from an informed viewpoint,” said journalist Evelyn Liri. “We must work to trigger debate and discussion so action can be taken.”

UNAIDS estimates 1.5 million people [2015] are living with HIV in Uganda. AHF has been operating in the country since 2002 and has 86,359 registered patients in its program.