WEDNESDAY 19th JULY 2016, DURBAN: Women from across the world today stormed the corporate stall of multinational pharmaceutical company Roche at the AIDS 2016 conference in Durban. The activists demanded Roche urgently drop the price of a vital breast cancer treatment. The women showered the company’s stand with over a thousand bras gathered from women around the world and held a banner telling Roche to “Stop booby trapping access to medicines”.
In South Africa Roche charges R485 000 (US$ 34,000) per treatment course for trastuzumab, a very effective linchpin treatment for HER2+ breast cancer. This prices it out of reach for the women who desperately need access today. For over eight years the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) have been fighting for access to affordable HIV and TB treatment, and more recently have turned to ensuring access to medicines across all disease areas.
Tobeka Daki, a HER2+ breast cancer patient from the Eastern Cape, South Africa, has been living with breast cancer and urgently needs access. “My medical aid declined to cover trastuzumab, claiming that it was too expensive. There’s no way I could pay myself. Without access to trastuzumab, my cancer has spread and, last year, I was diagnosed with bone cancer of the spine. Trastuzamab is a last hope for patients like me.”
Nkhensani Mavasa, TAC National Chairperson said: “We are here today because Roche hoardes a medication that could save lives. Their greed is killing women the world over. Women with HER2+ breast cancer require trastuzumab. A 12-month course of trastuzumab costs nearly half a million rand in South Africa. It is unaffordable to women across the world.”
“This must change, and it is Roche’s power to do that. But they choose to maintain their profits rather than save the lives of women. They are booby trapping access to lifesaving medicines and it must stop. We call on Roche to drop the price of trastuzumab immediately and if they don’t governments must move fast to secure generic supply,” said Lorena Di Giano from RedLAM in Argentina.
Kalyani Menon-Sen of the Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab in India said: “In India we have had doctors tell us they see no sense in telling their patients that there is a medicine that could treat their breast cancer and save them when they could not afford to get it. Greed is the sole motivator for the rapacious pricing policies of Roche and other big pharma players who control the production and distribution of the new generation of cancer drugs. The time has come for us to take a clear and unambiguous stand. Patents and other monopolies on life-saving drugs like trastuzumab are morally and ethically indefensible. Human rights are more important than trade rights.”
As the women sang songs demanding health justice and draped their bras symbolically over the expensive PR merchandise, Roche execs disappeared from sight. As women sang songs demanding health justice, Portia Serote, the National Woman’s Representative of TAC said: “It is a moral outrage for Roche to watch women die knowing it could easily save them”.
The women were joined by activists from around the world, including the UK, India, Argentina, and Brazil, where Roche also chooses to price their cancer medicines so high women die without accessing treatment.