Health activists protest high cost of lifesaving tuberculosis drug

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MIDRAND – Members from different organisations under the Fix The Patent Laws Campaign, protested the price of a life-saving tuberculosis drug.

Health activists, as a part of a global Doctors Without Borders campaign, gathered outside the offices of Johnson and Johnson in Midrand to protest the price of a lifesaving tuberculosis drug.

Other activist groups, including Treatment Action Campaign, Section 27 and TB Proof, participated in the launch of the Fix The Patent Laws Campaign to get Johnson and Johnson to drop their prices of Bedaquiline.

According to the World Health Organisation’s website, Bedaquiline is a bacterial fighting drug belonging to a new class of antibiotics called diarylquionline. The drug is used to treat multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB and is highly recommended as it interferes with the function of an enzyme required by the tuberculosis bacterium to produce energy and to replicate.

National chairperson for the Treatment Action Campaign, Sibongile Tshabalala, said that they are an organisation that fights for better health care services in South Africa. “We monitor facilities and monitor health policies, hence we are here today to tell Johnson and Johnson to lower their prices on Bedaquiline because for now, as much as South Africa can buy it, won’t last longer because of the prices.

“Therefore, we need them to lower the prices to lower than R15 a day because most people cannot get Bedaquiline.”

Chairperson of Treatment Action Campaign, Sibongile Tshabalala addresses fellow protesters outside the Johnson and Johnson offices in Midrand. Photo: Ofentse Ditlopo

Tshabalala added that as much as they were advocating for research and development of TB medication and prices, Johnson and Johnson cannot make a profit out of peoples lives.

“Johnson and Johnson are the only company manufacturing Bedaquiline globally, they can’t keep the medication because it is in need, they cannot put it under patent laws. They have all the rights, they need to lower the prices so that everyone can access it. Even if they can charge it at a minimum of R15 or less, they can still make a profit.”

The senior director for medical affairs for Johnson and Johnson Global Public Health, Abeda Williams, said that in July last year, South Africa became the first country in the world to recommend a bedaquiline-containing, injection-free regimen for all MDR TB patients.

“In recognition of the country’s leadership, we announced alongside the then Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi, a not-for-profit price of $400 (R5 913.20) for bedaquiline in South Africa – which was a nearly 50 per cent price reduction for a six-month course of our medicine. This price is now available to more than 130 countries globally.

“The not-for-profit price of Bedaquiline enables us to support manufacturing, distribution, regulatory activities, post-approval research and development commitments, health         systems strengthening, and surveillance programs to safeguard our antibiotic’s effectiveness.” Williams concluded that Bedaquiline is cost-effective, and the price is on par with or cheaper than some decade-old generic medicines, including Linezolid and    Clofazimine.

Details: Sibongile Tshabalala 074 471 6318.

Source: Midrand Reporter