BY INNOCENT GAHIGANA
Health Minister Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuliryayo has said the government cannot import expensive generic HIV/Aids drugs which patients cannot afford.
Ntawukuriryayo said this in response to reports that Antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs produced in Canada are allegedly more expensive compared to the ones from India.
The importation of Aids drugs from Canada is still in the process, he said.
“If we happen to learn that the drugs are expensive we will not import them, given the fact that they serve the same purpose like the ones we are getting from India.”
Asked why the government has a preference for Canada drugs over those of India, the minister said that it is an opportunity related to low-costs but not quality.
“Canadians promised us that their drugs will be bought at a cheap price,” Ntawukuliryayo said, but didn’t delve into the details of costs per pill from both producers.
However, Prof. Amir Attaran at the University of Ottawa reportedly disclosed in a letter to the Toronto Star news agency that the cost of ARVs from India is about Frw72 per pill.
“According to Médecins Sans Frontières, the same Aids drugs produced by Apotex of Canada are already being sold by Ranbaxy of India at about Frw72 a pill,” Prof Attaran is quoted by the agency.
Attaran, a professor of public health and law, noted that Apotex’s president, Jack Kay had previously said that the drug would cost 39 Canadian cents a pill (approx Frw 202).
The Canadian health expert anticipated that the higher price reflects the higher cost of producing drugs in Canada relative to India.
“If Apotex makes this sale, doesn’t it stand to reason that only one-third as many people with Aids will receive treatment for a given budget, and the other two-thirds will likely die?” asked Attaran.
Last month, Rwanda became the first developing country to apply for 260,000 packages of generic Aids medication from Canada.
This was in line with the 2003 World Trade Organisation (WTO) legislation to allow generic drug makers to produce and export Aids drugs to developing countries, almost regardless of the patent holders.
Canada was the first country to adopt the legislation, and her generic drug producer Apotex was the first company to apply to use the legislation.