Dr Dzulkefly thanks MSF for supporting Malaysia’s move on Hepatitis C drug

KUALA LUMPUR: In a tweet, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (pic) thanked international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for its support and solidarity with Malaysia’s stance on its use of compulsory licensing (CL) to gain access to generic versions of a Hepatitis C drug.

Malaysia has been facing pressure from pharmaceutical companies and their political allies ever since it used CL to gain access to generic versions of a Hepatitis C drug in 2017.

On Monday (Feb 11), MSF stepped in to support Malaysia’s position.

It has sent a letter addressed to the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Dr Dzulkefly and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail on Monday (Feb 11), expressing solidarity and support for the Malaysian government, as well as urging it to continue to reject any pressure from them to reverse the government-use licence.

The letter was also forwarded to Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

“Adoption of Doha Declaration on TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) with government-use licence was deemed necessary then, because of public interest. We’ve 500,000 Hep C+,” said Dr Dzulkefly in his tweet on Tuesday (Feb 12).

Dr Dzulkefly had retweeted deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Ismail’s tweet that carried The Star’s article on MSF’s support for the CL.

In the letter, which was uploaded on msfaccess.org website late Monday, MSF Access Campaign executive director Els Torreele said the pressure violated the integrity and legitimacy of the system of legal rights and flexibilities created by the TRIPS Agreement.

“The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines (HLP) has recognised the problem of access to medicines as a global issue in 2016.

“As low to high income countries across the globe continue to face significant difficulties with the excessive pricing of medicines by the industry, we commend the Malaysian government’s leadership role in supporting innovation and development of more medicines towards addressing the HIV and Hepatitis C virus epidemics,” she said.

In 2003, Malaysia became the first country to issue a CL on a medicine to treat HIV and similarly, in 2017, it was the first country to issue a CL for Hepatitis C treatment, said Torreele.

“These decisions illustrate the Malaysian government’s commitment to provide lifesaving medicines to its people,” she said.

Last November, Knowledge Ecology International had reported communications between Gilead Sciences, Inc and USTR obtained from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) under the Freedom of Information Act which NGOs had deemed Gilead using US authorities’ influence to pressure Malaysia to reverse its CL decision as a form of intimidation. Malaysia did not budge.

On Feb 8 this year, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) had again urged the USTR to “take immediate action to address serious and growing market access and intellectual property barriers in top overseas markets,” the markets.businessinsider.com reported.