In Brief

Stop the greed on HIV drugs, US firm told

American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences has been accused of making huge profits at the expense of HIV patients in developing countries, including the 1.4 million people living with HIV in Kenya.

Civil Society Organisations and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) have accused the firm of greedy practices, putting life-saving drugs for HIV and Hepatitis C out of reach through exorbitant prices.

In 2021 alone, Gilead Sciences made over $27 billion in revenue, an equivalent of Kes3.6 trillion, they said noting that the US firm buys publicly funded research on new medicines, only to bring it to the market at inflated prices, and blocks out competition through patent monopoly.

“Gilead is taking advantage of the patent monopoly to prevent generic competition and consequently limiting access to one of the most effective and well-tolerated antiretroviral drugs,” said Dr Samuel Kinyanjui, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Country Director.

The company has extended the patent of the antiretroviral drug from the original expiry date of 2017 to 2026 in a practice known as patent evergreening. By making small, incremental changes that do not constitute a major innovation to the drug, the company has been able to re-patent it as a new and improved drug. This patent monopoly keeps affordable and better drugs from reaching low- and middle-income countries.

With Kenya’s unique case of high HIV prevalence mainly among young people, Gilead’s actions can have a severe impact on people living with HIV in Kenya. With young people accounting for 61 percent of all new HIV infections, high-quality ARV treatment regimens that are more effective at suppressing the replication of the HIV virus, promote better health outcomes, and reduce the risk of mortality are critical to the country’s fight against the HIV epidemic.

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