Defying Law, Kenyan Orphanage to Import AIDS Drugs
Rev. Angelo D'Agostino, an American Jesuit priest who runs an orphanage for HIV infected children in Nairobi, Kenya, announced yesterday that he will seek to import "deeply discounted" AIDS drugs from India, despite Kenyan law protecting pharmaceutical companies' patents, the Washington Post reports. The move "reflect[s] [the] increasing willingness of nongovernmental organizations and AIDS activists to defy national regulations and international patent rules to buy cheaper, generic AIDS drugs," the Post reports. D'Agostino, a former medical professor at Georgetown University, said he is "sick and tired of doing funerals" and will attempt to import the drugs even though he estimated that they may be sufficient to treat only 20 of the 70 children at the orphanage. Indian drug maker Cipla Ltd. recently offered a generic three-drug combination therapy of stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine to Doctors Without Borders for $350 per patient per year on the condition that the drugs be distributed freely and that the organization handle the importing. D'Agostino is seeking the drugs "directly" from Cipla and announced that he is accepting donated AZT from a Brazilian generic drug maker. Kenya's Minister of Public Health Sam Ongeri said that the nation's law banning commercial import of generic drugs would "remain in force," but added that the parliament may amend the law next month to allow imports (Vick, Washington Post, 2/22). He called on pharmaceutical companies to "rise to the occasion and drop their prices" before the parliament takes up the issue. He said he "doesn't expect the government to stop D'Agostino," who could use a legal "loophole" to import a "small amount" of medication. The orphanage recently received private donations enabling it to purchase the drugs, whose name-brand versions retail for $10,000 to $15,000 per person per year in the United States and Europe (Tomlinson, AP/Nando Times, 2/22). D'Agostino agreed that the drug companies "might put up some static," but does not foresee government involvement because the proposal is "in the interest of the people."
Generics On the Battle Lines
D'Agostino's announcement, coming two weeks after Cipla's offer to Doctors Without Borders, "underscored how the question of access to expensive drugs appears to be moving beyond the control of the Western drug giants," according to the Post. Brazil, which treats 90,000 citizens with domestically produced generic drugs, is currently "driving the market," James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology said. If any "reasonable market" in Africa were to pursue generic drugs, it would be "reasonable to expect prices to go down even further," he said. Brazil's law is currently being challenged by U.S. trade representatives at the World Trade Organization. Three years ago South Africa attempted to enact legislation to allow for the manufacturing of patented AIDS drugs, but 42 drug companies filed suit to block the law, casting an "intimidation shadow" over other African governments, the Post reports. The case is scheduled to be heard March 5 in South Africa's Pretoria High Court. Drug companies have attempted to "satisfy growing calls to provide drugs," while maintaining their patents, by offering discounted prices or by making drug donations. Five Western firms last year offered to negotiate a deal with African governments to reduce prices by up to 80%, but so far agreements have only been made in Senegal, Uganda and Rwanda and that deal will reach only 3,000 of the 1.3 million people affected in those nations. D'Agostino said that the patent protections are "really the darker side of capitalism, the greed that is being manifested by these drug companies holding sub-Saharan Africa hostage," adding, "People are dying because they can't afford their prices" (Washington Post, 2/22).