Buyers clubs vs Big Pharma
We captured the movement of Hepatitis C patients who have been standing up to pharma monopolies and importing generics to cure themselves and others.
On the trail of our Just C campaign, we wanted to show the alternatives to exorbitantly priced Hepatitis C medication sold by the company holding the patent, Gilead Sciences. Often patients, upon learning their diagnosis of the bloodborne virus, are told by their health providers, that they do not qualify for treatment, and will have to wait until their condition worsens. In most countries in Europe this strategy treatment rationing is being deployed to counter the high drug prices. In the UK where we were focused for this campaign, only 5 % of the patients needing the drugs, were being treated.
This is absurd since there are affordable versions of the drugs sold by Gilead, currently being produced and by other pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh, Egypt, India and Morocco right now. The only thing stopping them flowing into most of Europe and the USA is Gilead’s patent. However the global TRIPS agreement allows citizens to import up to three months of any prescription medicine, which is not sold in their own country, for personal use. So more and more people, when faced with denial from their health providers, are beginning to take advantage of this loophole, to access generic Hepatitis C cures. Forming “buyers’ clubs” to import and distribute the drugs to the people who need them, this is a global citizen movement.
We collaborated with David Cowley, who runs one of these buyers clubs out of Wales and has successfully helped 500 people access generic treatment, to encourage others to join the community. We even set up a pop-up generic pharmacy outside Chelsea Hospital to promote it.
Gilead responded to our campaign to politico.eu, a subscription-only policy magazine in Brussels, by warning against buyers clubs and saying we were exaggerating about the price of the drugs, but that they couldn’t say how much it actually costs. Oh and the reason people aren’t getting the medication in the UK is because the National Health Service (NHS) is inefficient. Sure. Health professionals confirmed what we already knew, there is never any problem with roll-out when drugs are affordable. And anyway isn’t it about time for transparency on the pricing of medicine?