Novartis debuts $1-a-month drug access programme in Kenya

Novartis has started the first phase of a programme that will make 15 of its essential medicines available in lower-income countries for just $1 per drug per month.

The Novartis Access scheme – first announced last month – covers drugs to treat cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and breast cancer and officially gets underway in Kenya today.

The drugmaker says it is the first programme of its kind in the world and will help the Kenyan government meet its objective of improving the management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are expected to cause more than 60 per cent of deaths in the country by 2030.

While pharma-led access programmes have typically focused on infectious diseases, Novartis’ emphasis on NCDs ties in with the evolving healthcare requirements in low- and middle-income countries.

NCDs kill around 38 million people a year worldwide, with three quarters of deaths from chronic diseases in developing countries, and are expected to cost global society $47 trillion over the next two decades.

For example, breast cancer is the number one killer of women aged 35 to 55 in Kenya, in Vietnam diabetes has tripled in the last decade, and cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Latin America.

NCDs kill around 100,000 people a year in Kenya, and in July the government launched a programme aimed at the prevention, control and management of chronic illnesses, which will be supported by the Novartis initiative.

“The most pressing health problems can only be solved if the public sector, civil society and the private sector work together,” commented Dr Abbas Gullet, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross.

“Novartis is making an important contribution to fighting NCDs, but in order for Novartis Access to make a long-term impact, we need to drive it locally.”

The 15 medicines included in the initiative include three branded medicines: valsartan for hypertension; vildagliptin for diabetes and breast cancer therapy letrozole (breast cancer).

It also covers generic medicines from Novartis’ Sandoz unit that are used to treat heart failure and hypertension (amlodipine, bisoprolol, hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide and ramipril), high cholesterol (simvastatin), diabetes (glimepiride, metformin), breast cancer (anastrozole and tamoxifen), and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (salbutamol, amoxicillin).

The products have all been selected from the World Health Organization’s model list of essential medicines and are among the most commonly prescribed in the countries the programme targets.

The launch of the scheme in Kenya is being carried out with the help of the Kenyan Ministry of Health, the Kenyan Red Cross and various other national bodies that will help reinforce drug distribution channels and deliver training to healthcare workers to diagnose and treat chronic illnesses.

After Kenya, Ethiopia and Vietnam are the next in line for the access programme, and Novartis hopes to eventually extend it to at least 30 countries.

To help guide the roll-out, Novartis is collaborating with Boston University on a study that will measure the impact of the programme in Kenya.

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