A High Price to Pay

On January 28, as part of an ongoing multinational campaign to lower drug prices and improve access to AIDS treatments globally, advocates from three countries—Colombia, Mexico and the United States—held simultaneous protests targeting Chicago-based pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories over the pricing of its AIDS drug, Kaletra. A component of AIDS drug treatment regimens, particularly those known as ‘second-line’ treatments and salvage therapy, Abbott’s price for Kaletra in Mexico effectively keeps this lifesaving drug out of reach for nearly all those living with HIV/AIDS in Mexico.

mexico_city_protest_1Advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the group coordinating the US protest in the Chicago area, were joined by local student activists who have been involved in the AIDS drug pricing issue. The deep winter protest took place in front of the Lake Forrest home of Abbott CEO Miles D. White, joining hundreds of protesters in Mexico City and Bogata.

Abbott, a longtime target of multinational protests and legal actions over the pricing of its AIDS drugs including Kaletra and Norvir, has remained steadfast in its refusal to lower prices, countering advocates’ and governments’ demands with only modest price reductions. In contrast, ALL other drug companies have offered significant price reductions on their medications. Advocacy and negotiations between the Mexican Government and the major pharmaceutical companies resulted in significant drops in price in 2008 alone. For instance, GlaxoSmithKline accepted a 40% price reduction for Abacavir while Merck, Sharpe, and Dohme accepted a 40% price reduction for Efavirenz.

Abbott charges Mexico an exorbitant $5,400 per patient per year, the same price it charged in 2003. This is over five times the $1,000 per patient per year which it charges in other countries in Latin America (including Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, and Ecuador) and over ten times the price it charges in Africa, Haiti, and Cambodia.

“Many patients living here in Mexico depend on access to drugs such as Kaletra that are available elsewhere at a much, much lower cost,” said Patricia Campos, M.D., AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Latin America Bureau Chief, who is based in Mexico and was a speaker at the Abbott protest in Mexico City. “We are strongly urging Abbott to immediately lower the price of Kaletra in Mexico to equal the price offered to Brazil in order to ensure that people in need in Mexico are not priced out of such potential lifesaving AIDS treatments.”