South African TB patients join international campaign for affordable TB medicine


South African tuberculosis (TB) patients on Thursday joined an international campaign to demand affordable medicine for tuberculosis (TB) patients.

During a protest outside the offices of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in Midrand, Gauteng Province, participants called on the pharmaceutical corporation to lower the price of its anti-tuberculosis medicine bedaquiline to no more than 15 rand (about one U.S. dollar) per day for people everywhere who need it, in order to allow scale-up of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) treatment and reduce deaths.

Similar protests were also reported in the United States, Brazil, Belgium, Ukraine and Spain, as part of a global campaign organized by Fix The Patent Laws Campaign (FTPL).

Noludwe Mabandlela, a TB patient from Cape Town, joined the protest.

“Bedaquiline saved my life. I was experiencing a lot of side effects during my previous treatment which included drugs that need to be injected,” said Mabandlela, who was cured this year from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

“After switching to bedaquiline, my health improved much faster. I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through what I experienced. Pharmaceutical corporations like J&J should stop inflating the price of the drug that offers a lifeline to people affected with drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis,” Mabandlela said.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a member of the FTPL, claimed in a statement emailed to Xinhua that J&J currently charges double the price that MSF is asking.

J&J has priced bedaquiline at approximately 6,000 rand (about 400 dollars) for a six-month treatment course for countries eligible to buy the drug through the Global Drug Facility, a TB drug and diagnostic procurement mechanism, operating out of a UN agency.

However, researchers have claimed that bedaquiline could be produced and sold at a profit for much less – as little as approximately 3.75 rand per day if at least 108,000 treatment courses were sold per year.

This high price affects the scale-up of the drug in many countries struggling with DR-TB epidemics, considering that bedaquiline is just one of multiple drugs required in treatment regimens, MSF said.

MSF demands that the price be cut considering the joint contributions made in the development of this drug, including by MSF itself.

Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB Policy Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign, said those who contributed to bedaquiline’s development should have a say in how the drug is priced.

“We’re calling on J&J to price bedaquiline at no more than 1 U. S. dollar per day so that it can be made available to all people with drug-resistant TB,” he said.

Bedaquiline is one of only three new TB drugs to be developed in over half a century (the others are delamanid and pretomanid).

Since the World Health Organization recommended the use of bedaquiline a year ago as a core drug for the treatment of MDR-TB, less than 12,000 people were treated with a regimen including bedaquiline in South Africa, which is one of the countries with the heaviest burden of TB. Enditem

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