Faced with the important need to fight the spread of HIV and AIDS in the country, South Africa’s Health department has, with the help of an NGO, forced a drug company to relax its patent on an important ARV drug.
The HIV division of the pharmaceutical company, Abbot, which last year was unable to meet demand for Aluvia- a second-line ARV for HIV patients who no longer responded to their originally prescribed treatment- has yielded to the call of the nation’s health department to allow other drug companies join in the production of ARV drug.
Upon receiving a threat from the health department to source the drug from other suppliers, Abbvie, which holds the patent for the life-saving drug, had to agree by issuing licenses to other drug companies to make Aluvia.
South Africa supplies Aluvia to about 300000 people a month, making it the biggest buyer of the drug in the world. Without it, patients are in danger of dying. To address the shortage of the drugs, the department resorted to other means.
According to the department’s deputy director-general Anban Pillay, in desperation, the Swiss NGO The Medicines Patent Pool had been asked to plead with the drug company to relax its patent rights.
Taking such Parallel importation is legal under international law. However, trade treaties between countries often prohibit parallel importation so it is seldom resorted to. South Africa has never used parallel importation to source cheaper drugs.
With Abbvie issuance of licenses, Pillay said this had alleviated the local drug shortages though these companies licensed by Abbvie were charging more for the drug.
“They say they cannot make it for as little as the original manufacturer. What can we do?”
According to Timeslive, the threat of litigation and appeals to Abbvie were discussed at the UN Panel on Medicines in Johannesburg recently. The panel was set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to discuss the lack of access to drugs.
However, the public affairs head of Abbvie Battistina Tania Ghianim had denied that the drug company had been forced to relax its patent rights and a market access scientist João Carapinha, who is based in London, said problems were caused by the Health department’s inability to forecast the quantity of drug it would need.
“Parallel importation is designed to improve price negotiations but is not a long-term fix for failures in the supply chain. It appears that the Department of Health and civil society are proposing to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut.
“The case of Aluvia is suggestive that the supply chain in South Africa desperately needs reforming – better (co-ordination of) demand and supply, and deployment of newer technology.”