---Statement by the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network in Response to Astrazeneca CEO’s comments on free cancer drugs for Africa---
Thursday, June 9, the BBC reported that the CEO of pharma giant AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, announced that, when it comes to cancer in “Africa, we could give our products away and it would make no difference.”
Dr. Fidel Rubagumya, a member of the YP-CDN, a global community of over 5,000 health advocates, says that, “As someone who was trained as a medical student in Africa, practiced as a cancer treating non-oncologist medical doctor in a rural Rwanda and now training as a clinical oncologist in Africa, I found Mr. Soriot’s statements absurd and saddening.”
Soriot’s statement echoes the comment made by Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers in 2014, that the company’s cancer medicines were made for “Western patients who can afford it”. The AstraZeneca CEO further declared that the implementation and infrastructure challenges to deliver the necessary healthcare in Africa are too great. This is an old and disproven argument that kept HIV/AIDS medicines out of the hands of patients in low resource countries prior to 2002.
Dr. Rubagumya remarks that, “Mr. Soriot has never sat with a breast cancer patient who can’t afford two meals a day to tell her that the drug she needs to survive will cost USD 1000! The patient literally laughs at you, despite the excruciating cancer and heartbreaking reality of their situation. We are starting to make progress. For example, the Rwandan Government’s work with global partners has enabled patients with cancers, such as Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, to now be treated at Butaro Cancer Center in Rwanda just as they’d be treated in Boston.”
“The message AstraZeneca is sending is that if you cannot afford to pay for exorbitant cancer drug prices, you don’t deserve treatment,” says Jordan Jarvis, YP-CDN’s Executive Director. “In 2012, the African continent saw 645,000 diagnosed new cancer cases and 456,000 cancer deaths per year. Last year, the World Health Organization added 16 new lifesaving medicines for cancer to their Model List of Essential Medicines, which guides drug procurement, reimbursement and donations worldwide. Access to cancer treatment, just like lifesaving treatment for other diseases, is a human right.”
As the humanitarian aid organization Medicins Sans Frontiers has previously stated, “Drug companies claim to care about global health needs, but their track record says otherwise.” Health advocates have been fighting for affordable medicines, mostly for infectious diseases in the global south for about two decades. Increasingly, this battle is including medicines for cancer and other chronic diseases. “With current cancer drug prices that break the bank for even the wealthiest health systems, all countries now need to stand up against drug company price gouging and R&D policies that deny life to the poor,” stated Jarvis. “This kind of medical apartheid is unacceptable from anyone in 2016, much less the head of a major drug corporation.”
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