TB drug price drop is a welcome relief as South Africa faces budget constrains  

South Africa will now be paying 40% less for the multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) drug bedaquiline. Bedaquiline is a key component in the cocktail of drugs used to treat MDR-TB. Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is currently the sole manufacturer of bedaquiline. 

Earlier this month J&J announced that it would not enforce patents on bedaquiline, paving the way for the manufacturing of cheaper, generic versions of the drug to be sold in 134 low-and-middle income countries.

Patents and the cost of bedaquiline have been a point of concern for at least the last decade and calls have been mounting on the pharmaceutical company to reduce the cost. In September this year the Competition Commission in South Africa launched an investigation into J&J over the price of bedaquiline.

In an earlier story, Dr Norbet Ndjeka, chief director of TB control and management at the National Department of Health, had told Health-e News that it could take years for South Africa to get access to cheaper or generic bedaquiline. 

The 40% price drop means that South Africa will now pay R3,148 per patient for a six-month supply of the drug. This is a decrease from the R5,577,12 that the department had agreed to.    

Health Justice Initiative founder Fatima Hassan in a social media post published on Friday, stated that the bedaquiline prices should be dropped even lower in South Africa.

Re-negotiating contracts 

The National Department of Health was paying R5,400 for a six-month bedaquiline course. When combined with other drugs, used together with bedaquiline, the department was spending in the region of R20 000 per patient for a six-months treatment for MDR-TB. Around 7000 to 8000 MDR-TB people are treated for MDR-TB each year in South Africa. 

Health ministry spokesperson Foster Mohale says that the government began renegotiating for new prices for bedaquiline with J&J around August 2023 with the assistance of the Competition Commission in South Africa.

“The TB drugs tender introduced on October 1st, 2023 increased the price to R5,500. This was going to be higher than the global drug facility price,” says Mohale.

Mohale says that the National Department of Health will now save about 40% on their bedaquiline purchases from J&J over the next two years.

“Assuming that we treat 16,000 people with this drug over the next  two years  2 years, we will spend a total of R35,2 million instead of R88 million,” he explains. 

Candice Sehoma, access campaign advocacy officer at Doctors without Borders (MSF), says that the reduction of bedaquiline prices in South Africa is a win for TB patients in the country.

“It has taken us many years to get to this point and the collective action we have seen in the past weeks have all added tremendously to this win. It is also important to note that the reduction is also happening amidst national restrictions on spending and budgets. This cost saving will come in handy in addressing inequalities in our healthcare system,” says Sehoma. –Health-e News.

Picture Credit: MSF/Alexandra Sadokova


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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