Unprecedented global campaign launches against pharma company
Medicines campaigners target Abbott over the high price of its Aids drug, Kaletra. Meanwhile an independent but GAVI-funded study shows the roll-out of pneumococcal vaccine it is supporting is cost-effective
The multinational drug company Abbott is being targeted by health campaigners in a number of countries in a concerted campaign to try to break its monopoly on a valuable Aids drug called Kaletra.
Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, is a combination of two drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, the latter of which was developed partly with funding from the US government, the campaigners point out. Yet this combination treatment, which is becoming increasingly important in the developing world as resistance to first-line drugs grows, is under patent to Abbott and disproportionately expensive. The price of basic Aids drugs has been driven down from $10,000 per patient per year to $100 through generic competition. But Abbott has not allowed very cheap generic copies to be made and charges the poorest countries in the world $400 - while middle-income developing countries have to pay between $1000 and $4000.
Public Citizen in the USA is leading the charge, but campaigners in Brazil, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, Thailand, the Netherlands and elsewhere are all taking action - mostly by challenging Abbott's monopoly in their own legal systems. One company is being challenged, over one drug, but Public Citizen believes the orchestrated attack has greater significance:
The new campaign comprises an unprecedented global effort to fight Big Pharma's political power and improve access to lifesaving medicines.
Given the current economic squeeze and the need, recognised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her speech this week, to get more treatment out to people in developing countries to stop HIV infection as well as keep people alive, the campaigners clearly think this is the time to ramp up the pressure on Big Pharma once more.
Meanwhile, a study just published in the journal International Health - funded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) but carried out by independent researchers - finds that rolling out pneumococcal vaccines in poor countries in Africa not only saves hundreds of thousands of children's lives but is cost-effective, saving on hospital bills and allowing children to grown up to become productive members of the workforce. GAVI is that rare thing in international aid at the moment - an organisation awash with money. Donors in June promised to top up its coffers to the tune of $4.3 billion - more than it had asked for. Vaccines are currently held by donors to be a "best buy" - an idea the new study supports.
But a report card published at the same time by the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University in the US suggests a lot more effort - and money - also needs to go into other interventions than can prevent and treat pneumococcal disease. They include mothers breastfeeding for six months - which is surprisingly uncommon in many poor countries even though it gives babies immunity from all sorts of diseases and protects them from drinking bad water and ingesting contaminated food.