By Angela Makamure
February is the month of love. This is the time where individuals celebrate and show love and affection to their loved ones by sending flowers, messages of love and presents, and especially on February 14.
For Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams throughout the world, this months we are running a social media campaign titled ‘the Chilli Pepper Eating challenge’.
The challenge is aimed at putting pressure on pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to show some love and reduce the price of lifesaving tuberculosis (TB) drug Bedaquiline to not more than R15 per day for people who need it around the world.
Bedaquiline is one of the only three effective TB drugs to be developed in over 50 years.
The ‘Chilli Pepper Eating Challenge’ plays on J&J’s slogan #NoMoreTears (the tagline for the corporation’s signature baby shampoo product) since people continue to die or suffer irreversible damaging side effects because J&J have set the price of bedaquiline too high.
“Many of us grew up with the soothing slogan of J&J signature baby shampoo product: #NoMoreTears. It is a reminder of happy babies and bubbly bath times. Yet behind this cuddly image, J&J is perpetuating the suffering and loss of hundreds of thousands of people affected by tuberculosis”, says Candice Sehoma, the MSF Access Campaign Advocacy officer in South Africa.
“By setting the price of the lifesaving drug bedaquiline too high, J&J is, in effect, withholding the miracle of a cure from many people living with TB”.
Using the format of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the idea is to mobilise users to film short videos, explaining why they are doing this challenge and eat the chilli pepper (trying not to cry). Thereafter, they will have to nominate a friend to do the challenge next and upload it to social media, using the hashtag #NoMoreTears and tag the J&J twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Fix the Patent Laws Coalition
In South Africa, Fix the Patent Laws Coalition together with international allies, first launchedthis global campaign in October 2019. The FTPL members as well as TB activists protested outside the J&J offices in Midrand. Other protests took place in the US, Brazil, Belgium among other countries where J&J has offices.
Lowering the price of bedaquiline, will enable a scale-up of drug-resistant (DR-TB) treatment and reduction of deaths.
Currently, J&J charges double the price that MSF is asking – nearly R6 000 for a six-month treatment course for countries eligible to buy the drug through the Global Drug Facility (GDF). GDF is a TB drug and diagnostic procurement mechanism, operating out of a UN agency.
However, researchers from the University of Liverpool have calculated that bedaquiline could be produced and sold at a profit for much less – as little as about R4 per day if at least 108,000 treatment courses were sold per year.
MSF demands this price cut considering the joint contributions made in the development of this drug, including by MSF itself. Bedaquiline was developed with considerable taxpayer, non-profit and philanthropic support.
Despite this joint research and development effort by the global TB community, J&J alone owns the patent on the drug in many countries and has sole rights to determine in which countries the drug will be sold.
“Bedaquiline saved my life. I was experiencing a lot of side effects during my previous treatment which included drugs that need to be injected,” said Noludwe Mabandlela, who was treated for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in Khayelitsha, South Africa and was cured in early 2019.
“After switching to bedaquiline, my health improved much faster. I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through what I experienced. Pharmaceutical corporations like J&J should stop inflating the price of the drug that offers a lifeline to people affected with drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis.”
The challenge is set to continue at least until World TB Day on 24 March.
Angela Makamure is MSF Southern Africa Press Officer. Contact Angela on Tel +27 (0) 11 403 4440 | Fax +27 (0) 11 403 4443 | Cell +27 (0) 79 872 2950
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