Uproar in Harare as 4 North African countries 'excluded' from AIDS drug license; company denies

Ingy Deif for Ahram Online from Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday 1 Dec 2015

The ViiV Healthcare company told Ahram Online that the four countries were not excluded and that it has filed for authorisation with health authorities in these countries

Protests against exclusion of 4 MENA countries from generic drug
Protests against exclusion of 4 MENA countries from generic drug (photo for Ahram Online by: Ingy Deif)

“We Are All Africa”

Protestors chanted the slogan in a loud uproar, as crowds increased in numbers by the minute, drawing much attention among thousands participating in the 18th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) held now in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Marking World AIDS Day on 1 December at the ICASA ‘Community Village’ side venue, a stand took place on behalf of activists from all over Africa to urge pharmaceutical companies, specifically ViiV Healthcare, to make way for more accessible and affordable drugs in North Africa.

Stakeholders questioned why the company excluded four African countries from a voluntary license that enabled the purchase of a generic version of the antiretroviral drug Dolutegravir.

In an email, ViiV Healthcare told Ahram Online that the four listed countries were not excluded, and that the company already filed for authorisation with health authorities in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, which is still pending. The company also added that as of yet there is no patent for the drug in Libya or Tunisia. Dolutegravir is a new drug with fewer side effects and high genetic barriers preventing drug resistance for PLHIV.

The use of this drug will help improve the adherence of PLHIV to the course of treatment and thus reach viral suppression on the long run, which is something to push forward to in context of new treatment guidelines that recommend earlier treatment and were issued by the World Health Organisation on 30 November 2015.

ViiV Healthcare and the Medicine Patent Pool issued in 2014 a voluntary license on Dolutegravir to Indian manufactures, allowing them to supply 121 developing countries with the generic version of the drug.

However, all Africa countries were included except for Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco.

Representatives from the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) stressed that said North Africa relies mainly on generics for HIV treatment.

“It is a sub region that registers one of the lowest rates of adherence to drugs, and a denial of better generics with fewer side effects will increase the problem and increase the treatment gap between countries in Africa. It forces PLHIV to tolerate the side effects of the old drugs and adhere accordingly less to treatment,” they stated.

Ahram Online met with two members of Shehab, an Egyptian civil society organisation participating in ICASA and joining the protestors. “Although Egypt is not one of the four excluded countries, we are participating in solidarity with them," they said.

"Every African country should be treated the same.” 

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