The Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Wednesday it would write to the Competition Commission and the Medicines Control Council (MCC) to request that they investigate the market conduct of Aspen Pharmacare, the leading South African pharmaceutical company.
This comes after reports in the United Kingdom and South Africa detailing how staff at Aspen Pharmacare allegedly plotted to dispose of life-saving cancer medication in order to drive up their price across Europe.
The London-based Times newspaper reported allegations that this campaign has seen prices of life-saving cancer treatment inflated by more than 1,000 percent.
“The price rises meant that the cost of Busulfan, used by leukaemia patients, rose from £5.20 to £65.22 a pack in England and Wales during 2013, an increase of more than 1,100 percent. The prices of chlorambucil, also used to treat blood cancer, rose from £8.36 to £40.51 a pack in the same year.”
DA spokesperson on health, Wilmot James, said the World Bank had already highlighted that the South African pharmaceutical industry was controlled by cartels and operated in an uncompetitive manner, which would have the effect of increasing the cost of medication.
“Given the reports about how the cost of cancer drugs in Europe have been inflated, an investigation by the Competition Commission and the Medicines Control Council must, therefore, look into whether the same tactics are being used in our own country,” James said in a statement.
“It appears to be an effort to manipulate the market for drugs that effectively will put them out of reach for many if not most.”
The Medicines Control Council is the body responsible for the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry in South Africa.
James also said the DA would seek clarity from the Competition Commission as to whether they are currently investigating the South African pharmaceutical industry for uncompetitive behaviour and if so, to make public the findings thereof.
“Access to medicines is a very important principle of health justice, and it is unacceptable that ill patients are exploited for financial gains by big companies,” James said.
“The wellbeing and health of our people must be prioritised. The DA will not stand by if vulnerable South Africans are forced to pay more than they need to for medication.”
In a statement on its website on Tuesday in response to the UK media reports, Aspen said that said that it had clearly demonstrated its commitment to providing quality medicines affordably over many years, adding that the supply of the oncology products in question is no exception.
Aspen said its status as a responsible and committed provider of quality, affordable medicines is further validated by the role it has played in saving millions of lives across Africa through pioneering and supplying generic anti-retroviral medicine in Africa for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
The company, with its key production facility in Port Elizabeth, said that the content of the media reports concern matters that it says are sub-judice and would not comment on these public allegations.
Aspen said that it looked forward to the opportunity to demonstrate the integrity and legality of its practices in the context of these legal processes.
- Report by own staff and African News Agency (ANA)