Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have expressed concern over restrictions by global HIV and Hepatitis drugs manufacturer barring other pharmaceutical companies from replicating their medicines to make generics.
Speaking to journalists during a press conference on Wednesday, Kenneth Mwehonge, the Executive Director HEPs Uganda said drugs made by Gilead, an American Biopharmaceutical company are too expensive for many countries to afford and yet they impose patents making it hard for poor countries like Uganda to have access through generic manufacturers.
He says this is despite the fact that clinical trials that lead to the introduction of such drugs like the HIV drug Truvada are conducted in Uganda and tried among Ugandans, eventually, Ugandans don’t get a chance on using them when they are eventually cleared as effective.
Truvada is used in combination with other drugs as HIV treatment as well as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
According to Henry Magala, the Country Manager AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), this is an expression of greed and lack of regard for humanity by the company which should be a lesson for the government to do better pre-clinical trial negotiations when calls for such research come in such that people who participate are not just guinea pigs and get rights of access later.
He said people living with HIV are not the only ones affected by Gilead’s restrictions as a highly effective hepatitis C drug dose costs $1000 in the United States and yet generic versions of similar medicines manufactured in India costs just $4 dollars.
However, the concerns by Ugandan activists are only adding to a global campaign that started when Gilead excluded 50 middle-income countries from access to the generic versions of their HIV and hepatitis B products.
In addition, the company holds a patent in seventy countries worldwide on the antiviral drug remdesivir, which was used widely in the treatment of COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic.
Some of the studies on the efficacy of this drug which was initially being trialed as an Ebola drug were conducted in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Activists say some of the people who took part in such studies can’t afford the drug as the company is taking advantage of the patent monopoly to limit access and prevent generic competition.
In Uganda however, 90% of the drugs being used are generic versions and according to Immaculate Owomugisha a Human Rights lawyer, this defeats the equality fight as Ugandans are given choices between high-quality medicines and cheap options when they go to buy medicines.
Now, the activists want the company to lift manufacturing restrictions especially since the rates of new HIV infections are still high despite efforts made in treatment. Mwehonge explains that this is especially important and urgent for young women in Uganda to access Truvada as an HIV prevention method.