On the 11th of February, Doctors without Borders (MSF) submitted a letter of support and solidarity to the Ministry of Health of Malaysia (KKM) as they stand by the ministry’s support to use government-use license on a drug for Hepatitis C treatment, sofosbuvir, and to speed up the process of manufacturing the generic version of the drug. According to MSF, the KKM’s aspiration that was expressed back in September 2017 is a positive step for the health of the nation as well as innovation.
The price of Hepatitis C drug, sofosbuvir
The issuing of the license by the ministry was so that a cheaper generic version of sofosbuvir could come into fruition and that more Hepatitis C patients can have access to the drug. As of now, sofosbuvir is the best drug known for Hepatitis C with a cure rate of up to 95% and fewer side effects compared to other drugs in use. However, Gilead which holds the patent of sofosbuvir is reported to be selling the drug with for a whopping RM 4000 (USD 1000) per pill and for a course of 12 weeks with a complete treatment with other adjunct, the cost is said to be a total of RM 336 000 (USD 84 000).
When drugs can be manufactured for a fraction of a cost, the government is able to buy and subsidise the said medication, allowing for a more affordable and accessible health care. It is for that very reason that most countries struggle to comprehend nor believe that the cost of health care services in a government clinic in Malaysia is as low as RM 1 (USD 0.25). With just RM 1, Malaysians are able to get consultation, be examined by trained doctors, go through diagnostic imaging such as X-ray and receive medications that of multiple types. If the government succeed in enabling manufacturers from Egypt or India to produce sofosbuvir’s generic other half, MSF estimates that the cost of a 12 weeks treatment can be dropped down to as low as RM 480 (USD 120). MSF especially, rely on supplies of generic drugs for their humanitarian missions.
301 report: a respond from American pharmaceutical bodies
The issuing of the license on sofosbuvir patent is the stepping stone of a paradigm shift in treating Hepatitis C and in Malaysia’s effort to combat and control the burden of chronic diseases. It will benefit millions of patients but the move is not without retaliation.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) submitted a letter to the United State Trade Representative (USTR) to include Malaysia in the 301 report as a Priority Foreign Country (PFC). The 301 report is a report that identify barriers on American intellectual properties, copyrights, patents and trademarks in international trade. The report earned its apt name from section 301 of the Trade Act 1974.
In the letter, PhRMA appealed to USTR for Malaysia to be listed as one of the PFC, which is the worst classification for countries that are found to provide inadequate or ineffective protection on intellectual properties and copyrights. If listed, Malaysia could face economic sanction from America which will undeniably affect other aspects of trade and diplomacy between the two nations. It is apparent that the capitalist pharmaceutical companies are lobbying for the move and are heavily influencing the USTR’s decision to proceed with the sanction.
The commitment of the government in ensuring access to affordable health care is not only noble and praiseworthy, but should be continued for the betterment of society and eventually, country.
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