[Ip-health] Minister Mkhize must ensure access to cancer medicine that WHO now considers “essential”

Lotti Rutter lotti at healthgap.org
Tue Jul 9 04:05:38 PDT 2019

**Apologies for cross posting**

Minister Mkhize must ensure access to cancer medicine that WHO now
considers “essential”


Johannesburg (9 July 2019) — It was announced today that lenalidomide, a
lifesaving medicine to treat multiple myeloma, has been included on the
latest edition of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Essential Medicines
List (EML).

Welcoming the inclusion of lenalidomide on the list, among 5 new cancer
medicines, the Fix the Patent Laws campaign (a coalition of nearly 45
patient advocacy groups in South Africa) said the announcement offers new
Health Minister Dr Zwelini Mkhize an historic opportunity to act to save

“Currently, the majority of cancer patients in South Africa who could
benefit from lenalidomide cannot access it due to its prohibitively high
cost of ZAR R60,781 per patient per month, or ZAR 729,372 per patient for a
year’s course—depriving many people of a chance at life,” said Salomé
Meyer, from the Cancer Alliance.

In South Africa more than 400 new cases of multiple myeloma
blood cancer of the plasma cells of bone marrow that can be treated with
lenalidomide—are reported annually. The real number is likely to be far
higher since not all cases are currently reported to the National Cancer

The current high price charged for lenalidomide in South Africa means that
the government cannot afford to buy it—leaving no hope for people in need
who rely on the public healthcare system. Medical schemes in the private
sector are also unwilling to cover the full costs. This leaves the option
for people to pay out of pocket, or go without—”it is your money or your
life” continued Meyer.

In contrast in India, a year’s course is sold at a fraction of the price by
a generic supplier for ZAR 28,476, less than 4% of the South African price.
However, here, the government and people are currently unable to buy more
affordable generic versions from India given that the patent owning
company—Celgene—holds 32 secondary patents on lenalidomide that could block
generic competition until 2028. These secondary patents were granted
because South Africa does not actively examine patent applications to
ensure only genuinely new and innovative technologies are granted patent

“These unfair patents are simply to extend Celgene’s monopoly and keep
prices high, and have been rejected in India and other countries. South
Africa’s outdated patent laws are a critical factor driving the vast price
difference on the same medicine,” said Lotti Rutter from Health GAP. “While
we welcomed a final policy to reform these laws last year, we are still
waiting for a bill from government to move the process forward and actually
ensure that people have improved access to medicines on the ground. Delays
to this process are costing lives.”

*– What do we want*

Today in South Africa we are launching the “*Campaign for Access to
Affordable Lenalidomide*”. Echoing the demands set out in a memorandum
handed to the National Department of Health in April, where Teboho Shai
<https://www.canceralliance.co.za/patient-story-teboho-shai/> gave evidence
of his own struggle to access this medicine, we demand that the government:

   1. Provide affordable generic medicines, including lenalidomide, for
   cancer treatment in the public sector;
   2. Issue compulsory licences in instances where patent barriers prevent
   the importation of more affordable versions of excessively priced cancer
   3. Rapidly introduce and finalise the amendments of the Patents Act in
   line with South Africa’s Intellectual Property Policy: Phase 1; and
   4. Ensure the efficient and transparent registration of medicines by the
   South African Health Products Regulation Agency (SAHPRA).

Despite being very outspoken about the unethical actions of pharmaceutical
companies, former Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi never used his
powers to grant a compulsory license on a medicine, nor did he take any
steps that we are aware of to improve access to lenalidomide.

“We urge Dr Mkhize to use his powers in terms of Section 4 of the Patents
Act to grant a compulsory license that would allow for the importation of
affordable lenalidomide,” said Sibongile Tshabalala from the Treatment
Action Campaign (TAC).  “We cannot allow more people to die without
accessing a medicine that may save their lives simply because our
government refuses to use the powers it has in law.”


*For more information contact:*

Salomé Meyer, (Cancer Alliance) +27 79 493 3175 |
advocacy at canceralliance.co.za

Lotti Rutter, (Health GAP) +27 82 065 5842 | lotti at healthgap.org


A Fix the Patent Laws joint report
the Cancer Alliance previously highlighted the patents for lenalidomide in
South Africa, illustrating how excessive patenting can inflate prices,
block generic competition, and ultimately hinder medicine access.

The excessive price of lenalidomide in South Africa is an example of the
crisis of global unaffordable cancer medicines. The recent World Health
Organization (WHO) Technical Report ”Pricing of cancer medicines and its
highlights the impact of pricing on the availability and accessibility of
cancer medicines.

Fix the Patent Laws is a joint coalition of the Treatment Action Campaign
(TAC), Doctors Without Borders (MSF), SECTION27, Cape Mental Health (CMH),
Diabetes SA, Epilepsy SA, Health GAP, Marie Stopes South Africa, the Stop
Stock Outs Project (SSP), the Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders Alliance
(SABDA), the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the South
African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH), the South African
Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD Alliance) and the Cancer Alliance
including Advocates for Breast Cancer; amaBele Project Flamingo, Ari’s
Cancer Foundation, Breast Course 4 Nurses (BCN), Breast Health Foundation
(BHF), Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Cancer Heroes, CanSir,
CanSurvive Cancer Support (CanSurvive), Care for Cancer Foundation,
Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), Gladiators of Hope,
Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), Lymphoedema Association of
South Africa (LAOSA), Look Good Feel Better (LGFB), Love Your Nuts (LYN),
Men’s Foundation, National Council Against Smoking, National Oncology
Nursing Society of SA (NONSA), Pancreatic Cancer Network of SA (PanCaN),
People Living With Cancer (PLWC), the Pink Parasol Project, Pink Trees for
Pauline (Pink Trees), Pocket Cancer Support, Rainbows and Smiles, Reach for
Recovery (R4R), South African Oncology Social Workers’ Forum (SAOSWF), The
Sunflower Fund (TSF), VREDE Foundation for Young People with Cancer (Vrede
Foundation) and Wings of Hope (WoH).

*Lotti Rutter*
Associate Director
International Policy & Advocacy
Health GAP

Cell: +27 82 065 5842 (South Africa)
Phone: +1 347 263 8438 x104 (US)
Twitter: @HealthGAP @lottirutter
Skype: lotti.rutter

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