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Affordable healthcare Novartis offers cheap drugs for developing countries

Patients in Kenya, Ethiopia and Vietnam will be the first beneficiaries of the cheap drugs


The Swiss pharma giant Novartis has launched a portfolio of 15 affordable drugs for chronic diseases in low- and middle-income countries. Treatments will be offered at $1 per treatment per month. 

Baptised “Novartis Access” the affordable drugs portfolio is targeted at chronic diseases like diabetes, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases and breast cancer. The choice was made based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Essential Medicines List and the drugs are also the most prescribed medicines in the 30 countries that will benefit from the reduced rates. 

The scheme, which covers both generic and patented drugs, will first be rolled out in Kenya, Ethiopia and Vietnam. 

“This programme takes a novel approach to addressing the rising tide of chronic diseases in parts of the world where people often have limited access to healthcare,” said Joerg Reinhardt, Chairman of the Novartis board. “We know we will need to keep an open mind set and learn as we progress on this journey.” 

The announcement was timed to coincide with the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit that begins tomorrow in New York. The new Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted at the summit including the one on health and well-being that aims to reduce premature mortality from chronic diseases by a third by 2030. 

Criticism over patents

 Novartis has come under criticism for attempts to extend patents on its drugs and thus preventing generic manufacturers from producing affordable versions for patients in poor countries. A case in point is its seven-year battle to obtain a patent for a new version of its anti-cancer drug Glivec in India. The Indian Supreme Court eventually ruled against Novartis in 2013 on the grounds that it is not a novel medicine but an amended version of an existing compound. 

Glivec treatment costs around $2,600 (CHF2,540) a month while generic equivalents in India can be had for around $175 a month.

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