Campaign Calls for Pharma Giant to Cut Cost of HIV Meds

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Cambodia is calling for a US pharmaceutical giant to lower the price of HIV medicines in lower and middle income countries
People buy medicines at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh, January 24, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
People buy medicines at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh, January 24, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Cambodia (AHF Cambodia) has launched a campaign calling for pharmaceutical giant, Gilead Sciences, to lower the price of HIV medicines in lower and middle income countries.

On Tuesday, AHF Cambodia launched its 'Gilead - Put Lives Before Profits' campaign urging the company to take five main actions.

It is urging Gilead Sciences to stop evergreening patents on existing HIV/AIDS drugs, including Truvada, open the license for the generic production of the hepatitis C drug Harvoni to all low- and middle-income countries, or license remdesivir for generic distribution at a nonprofit price.

It is also calling for license technology to produce treatment for cryptococcal meningitis to generic manufacturers, and link executive compensation to the impact on positive public health outcomes and access to medicines in developing countries.

This comes after Gilead Sciences increased the price of HIV medicines globally.

“We’re calling on Gilead to do these five things because they’re vital in helping the millions of people in low- and middle-income countries that don’t have access to the affordable, lifesaving medicines they need,” said AHF Asia Bureau Chief, Chhim Sarath.

Gilead is one of the worst offenders of big pharma profiteering, and at the same time, it has priced several of its HIV and hepatitis C drugs out of reach for many people, according to a press release from AHF.

It added that Gilead is among the top 15 largest bio pharmaceutical firms in the world, generating more than $27 billion in revenue and paying its CEO over $19 million in 2021 alone.

In addition to overpricing life-saving drugs, it has refused to register some medications in lower income countries and consistently blocks attempts to introduce cheaper, generic versions of its medicines.

A highly-effective hepatitis C drug costs $1,000 per pill, and a 12-week course of treatment has a retail price of more than $90,000 in the U.S.

A generic version of the same drug costs only $4 per pill in India, but according to Médecins Sans Frontières, Gilead has excluded 50 middle-income countries from access to the generic, discounted price.

These excluded countries include Jamaica, Tunisia, the Philippines, Ukraine, and Venezuela, among others.

According to the UNAIDS Country Fact Sheet Cambodia 2021, there are 74,000 adults and children living with HIV in Cambodia, with 1,100 of adults and children newly infected with HIV and 1,100 adult and child deaths due to AIDS.

While there are 63,000 people living with HIV who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Cambodia.

A group of nearly 150 nongovernmental organizations, including AHF and MSF, wrote a letter recently to Gilead demanding it expand access to its patented Covid-19 treatment candidate drug remdesivir.

Gilead holds the patent on remdesivir in 70 countries worldwide, and there are no production sites for the drug outside the US.

In the face of a huge demand for remdesivir, MSF says Gilead is taking advantage of the patent monopoly to limit access to the drug and prevent generic competition.

Meanwhile, millions of people with HIV/AIDS and Covid 19 risk dying due to a lack of access to effective treatments.

“Gilead must be held accountable for arbitrarily placing a price on who lives and who dies by keeping the most effective, modern, and lifesaving medicines out of reach of millions of people in low- and middle-income countries,” said AHF Director of Global Advocacy and Policy, Guillermina Alaniz.

Despite claims that it uses its enormous profits to develop new drugs, Gilead often buys up publicly-funded research on new medicines, brings them to market at inflated prices, and rewards its executives with enormous pay packages while delivering above-market stock prices and dividends for its shareholders. It’s time that Gilead stops the greed, said AHF.

AHF is a global non-profit organization providing cutting edge medicine and advocacy to over 1.7 million people in 45 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. It is currently the largest non-profit provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the world.