- Following the South African government's medicines pricing regulations, introduced earlier this year, drug companies have increased the prices of AIDS medicines by up to 40 percent on the private market. Organisations trying to fight the pandemic are frustrated by the price hike, urging companies to stop "further limiting access to life-saving drugs."
The organisations are appealing to large drug manufacturers to not raise the prices of their AIDS treatment drugs in South Africa when incorporating new government pricing regulations and guidelines in that hard-hit African country. The South African government's new pricing regulations, which were released on 16 January, relate to the country's Medicines Act.
The new regulations now require drug manufacturing companies to charge state-associated AIDS treatment facilities the lowest prices for its drugs, while requiring the drug manufacturers to charge other entities, such as charitable non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a higher price called the 'Single Exit Price' (SEP).
South African groups and the US-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) - which operates AIDS treatment clinics in South Africa, Uganda and Zambia - today protested the consequences of this new pricing policy. The foundation in a statement said it had observed price hikes of up to 40 percent by manufacturers due to the new pricing policy.
- As a result of this new price regulation announcement earlier this year by the South African government, some drug companies have chosen not to lower the price for the government and instead have increased drug prices for all others, the US organisation said.
These drug companies were thus in effect rescinding their earlier standard and practice of offering lower prices frequently tout as their goodwill initiatives. "Now, unfortunately, by only offering the lowest prices to state-associated AIDS treatment facilities, the drug companies have put these life-saving drugs even further out of reach for all other providers, NGOs, and individual South Africans living with HIV/AIDS," the statement said.
A clinic operated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Durban currently treats over 500 South Africans with anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy. However, the facility also now has over 3,000 HIV-positive individuals on its waiting list in need of immediate ARV treatment, according to the foundation.
- Unfortunately, our Durban clinic is unable to access the state-only prices in South Africa, said Michael Weinstein, President of AHF. Big pharmaceutical companies had essentially removed an earlier low price programme from the table and had instead "increased the price of these life-saving drugs to a point that we and other NGOs simply can't afford," he added.
As a result, the clinic was "unable to treat the thousands of South Africans on our waiting list, many of whom will sadly die unless access to lower priced drugs becomes a priority," Mr Weinstein said. "As millions of people worldwide are dying from AIDS because they are unable to access ARV treatment, it astonishes me that drug companies continue to have the audacity and hubris to increase the already greatly-inflated prices of drugs."
Several organisations fighting AIDS in South Africa have urged drug companies to keep their promise of bringing the lowest possible prices of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to nations in desperate need. "If the drug companies were truly interested in the welfare of HIV- positive South Africans they would not increase the price of these drugs as many have done," said Swazi Hlubi, Executive Director of South Africa's NetCom.
- There is nothing in South Africa's regulations that preclude the drug companies from setting a new, lower price for government or state facilities and keeping the Accelerated Access Initiative price available for all others, added Mr Hlubi. "This is the action that would save the most lives."
The pharmaceutical companies' Single Exit Prices have increased the price of drugs in some cases by more than 40 percent, according to the organisation. The business has argued that the price increase is the result of them being forced to comply with Section 6 of the Medicines Act pricing regulations.
Advocates contest that although the regulations were put in place by the government of South Africa, drug companies were not forced to raise the price of drugs. "They can comply with the regulations by simply lowering the price for state programmes," the activist hold.
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