HIV treatment advocates from MENA region demand lower prices for key drugs

Today, the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is considered to have one of fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world and the lowest rate of treatment coverage – with only 14% of people in need receiving antiretroviral therapy.
ITPC MENA and ALCS-Maroc recently organized a World Community Advisory Board meeting, bringing together 17 activists from nine countries in the region, to engage in dialogue with the Medicines Patent Pool and the pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare. The discussions revolved around how to improve access to HIV treatment in the region.
According to Othoman Mellouk, Regional Advocacy Coordinator of ITPC-MENA: “This is the first time in the MENA region that representatives of people living with HIV and civil society advocates gather together in a Community Advisory Board to meet officially with pharmaceutical companies and public health institutions to negotiate and question them about accountability and responsibility to ensure all people in need access lifesaving treatment.”
During the meeting with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), treatment activists raised concerns about the exclusion of several MENA countries in licenses negotiated by the MPP with pharmaceutical companies.
Activists also denounced the exclusion of children from Jordan and Libya from accessing two key medicines under an MPP license. They called on the MPP to urgently re-open discussions with companies to amend these licenses to ensure these children have access to lifesaving treatment.
During the meeting with ViiV Healthcare, advocates raised issues around: information about ViiV’s antiretrovirals, pricing and registration policies, intellectual property rights, drug quality control and results of clinical trials conducted on new drugs in development.
They also urged ViiV to review the geographic limits of its Access Initiative – as the current Initiative excludes children in Jordan and Libya. Regarding ViiV’s recently launched drug dolutegravir, activists requested fast access and lower prices in all low and middle-income countries in MENA. Dolutegravir is a new integrase inhibitor, which can be used in combination with other anti-retroviral medicinal products for the treatment of HIV infected adults and adolescents above 12 years of age.
“It was very pleasant to note that as a result of our capacity building efforts during the last three years, the level of knowledge of the patient community has grown. Community advocates are taking now a different approach to drug provision. People living with HIV understand that nothing is given for granted, and if they do not start to fight for their rights, everything will go for the commercial interests of the companies” , added Othoman Mellouk.
The meeting minutes as well as positions of MENA-CAB regarding the policies of specific companies, will soon be available at our website ( www.itpcmena.org ).