Kenya society unites to take on Big Pharma

The pharmaceutical industry has been in the spotlight for some time for its inability to provide reasonably priced medicine to those most in need, particularly in developing and least-developed countries. Making matters worse is a complex web of governmental and trade regulations that make progress painfully slow when lives are lost daily because patients cannot afford lifesaving drugs.

To initiate change, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Kenya and partners have formed a coalition—the Global Drug Pricing Movement—to establish protocols for negotiating with drug companies and governments to get medications at fair prices.

“The high cost of medicine is one of the greatest threats to universal health coverage,” said AHF Africa Deputy Bureau Chief Dr. Wamae Maranga. “Our objective is for other like-minded organizations to unite to explore how to make medicines and related supplies affordable for people who need them.”

Kenya is an ideal starting point for the campaign since its HIV burden is high and medicines are either unavailable – often due to intellectual property (IP) protections like evergreening – or simply too expensive for poor families. Historically, HIV medicine has taken five to 10 years to reach Kenya.

“It’s taken generic drugs like Dolutegravir far too long to reach facilities here, when it’s been available to patients in the US and Europe for over three years,” said National Empowerment Network of PLHIV in Kenya Executive Director Nelson Otwoma. “It is our goal to make sure that all who need treatments like this can access it, which can only happen if costs are drastically reduced.”

The campaign will first focus on the biggest offenders of price gouging and will also address how access to generic drugs is inhibited by provisions in trade agreements, like the WTO’s harmful TRIPS stipulations that affect drug prices worldwide.

“The cost of drugs differs country-to-country and has many factors,” said Dr. Maranga. “It will be a big undertaking, but if we can begin to address the problems with evergreening and trade policy, we can start to make progress.”

AHF has been working in Kenya since 2007 and provides treatment services to 27,928 patients.