Drug company price cuts include NGOs and private sector

GlaxoSmithKline is to lower the cost of its anti-malarial drugs and some HIV/AIDS drugs to the developing world, but more significantly it will extend the offer to non-governmental organisations and employers in Africa that offer HIV/AIDS treatment to their staff.

The pharmaceutical company announced in London that the newer HIV/AIDS drugs would be offered, over and above the established treatments such as zidovudine (Retrovir), which is already available at preferential prices in developing countries.

None of the new drugs being offered are available in the South African public health sector where the only anti-retrovirals currently in use are AZT and 3TC for post-exposure prophylaxis for health workers (needlestick injuries). Apart from that, only Nevirapine is used in the mother to child transmission pilots in the nine provinces.  

Neither of the anti-malarial drugs is on the South African Essential Drug List.

Despite the fact that neither of the discounted drugs were currently being used in South Africa, the price reductions announced by GlaxoSmithKline were significant – for example the price of the anti-malarial drug Malarone would be cut by more than half from UK £36,5 per day to £13.

South African drug experts said the most important shift was the fact that the offer was now being made to non-governmental organisations and employers treating their staff.

“Given the fact that providing anti-retrovirals remains beyond the current budgetary capacity of the public health service, the offer to expand access to non-governmental organisations and employers must be welcomed,” said Andy Gray, of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of Durban-Westville.

He said the offer could have a major impact on the number of patients treated in the private sector. Previous offers of reduced drug prices have often been limited to state purchase and have therefore had a limited impact in countries whose state drug budgets are insufficient.  

“However, sustainable access will depend on continued downward pressure on prices as well as increased funding. Such downward pressure is most commonly associated with competition in the market from alternative suppliers, making governments’ use of measures such as parallel importation and compulsory licensing necessary despite offers such as these,” Gray said.

GlaxoSmithKline said the number of countries eligible for the cheaper prices would be expanded to include all countries in sub-Saharan Africa and all the least-developed countries as identified by the United Nations.

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