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Buyers Club: the network providing people with affordable hepatitis C medicine

December 6, 2019


When I first started, people used
to contact me from all over the world. It was a pretty steep learning curve like,
how to organise this thing. It just sort of kept on getting bigger and bigger until I was like, getting 200 emails a day. I might get a fine,
arrested, jailed, but if I don’t do what I am doing,
then people will die. It’s straight from
the script of Hollywood movie Dallas Buyers Club. An Australian man in his 60s
is taking on a global pharmaceutical company. Greg Jefferys has supplied more than 100
Australians who have hepatitis C with life-saving drugs from India because
he says the Australian medical system has failed them. Summer in Queensland … … at the house in Princess Street. So, I’ve always been very healthy, you know,
like as I said, even in my drug years I surfed a lot, I was outdoors,
I really not had any health issues until, sort of, when I hit my 50s. Then I started to get this mysterious
things going wrong with my health which now the doctors
can figure out, and suddenly, my health just went, bang. Suddenly I started getting nose bleeds for
no reason, my gums started bleeding, if I would scratch myself I would bleed … … and very quickly,
the doctor did the tests and then I discovered I had hepatitis C. It took a lot of talking to specialists,
to the hepatitis nurse at the hospital, to figure out that actually
I got it back when I was 20, using intravenous drugs. It was good to know
how I got it and then, of course,
the next big question is how you get rid of it. A new drug is curing hepatitis in just weeks. It is being called the best drug
launch in history. A miracle drug that actually
cures hepatitis C. I did research and you soon discover that,
wow, there’s a really good cure available, really effective, really safe …
but then of course I found out that it was more
than $100,000 Australian to buy which is, you know,
the price of a house here. This new treatment would have
just been released in the USA and everyone was talking about it,
and mostly people were talking about the fact that it was so expensive. It’s too expensive. And you soon discover that
the pill that you have to pay $1,000 per pill for, actually costs less than 50 cents to make. And it’s at that point
you start to say well, there’s something wrong with the whole system. That they don’t care if people die
because they can’t afford the drug, they just want top dollar. What you doing, guys? What are you doing, guys? Hi Thomas. Hello! You’re needing hepatitis C treatment, han? Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve been working on it
in Sweden for over two years but in Sweden they only get the medicine
for the people that are really, really, really sick. I can ship direct to you in Sweden
so you would have the treatment in basically two weeks. Wow! Yeah, yeah. That’s … that’s amazing. I’m really glad. Yeah, thank you very much. OK. Good bye. To have hep C, you know your blood is
infected, can infect other people in your life, like my daughter,
like my wife. I’m afraid of my shaving stuff. I don’t want my daughter
to get my tooth brush … It feels like your blood can hurt people. I know I got my hep C off dirty needles,
sharing with other people, you know? I didn’t care about anything, you know? I know the risk about sharing needles
but I didn’t care, I just cared about the mess fix. So the hep C is the last thing
for me to deal with, to feel normal. In that way, I have fought addiction,
I have fought a lot of problems in my life, you know, but the hep C is still there, dragging me backwards, you know? I’ve seen how sick you can get,
if you live with hepatitis C for too long. My father had it for a long time and
he was like, you know, a walking dead. I just started looking up in the internet,
I always talked to my father about this, and he said: ‘I’ve seen on the internet
you can buy some medicine from overseas.’ I read all the stories and in every story
everybody is talking about Greg, Greg, Greg. And he told me that he can fix
the transportation from India. That was too good to be true, you know. When you do the research,
you discover that India makes a huge amount of pharmaceuticals, that get sent all over the world
as generics, you know? I started to find people in India who could
ship from India to different parts of the world because I’ve been doing
that with generic HIV drugs. Amongst them, I got an email from Parag
who was, you know, a licensed exporter for pharmaceuticals
and offered to help in anyway he could. The sources are very reliable
and they say that the brand is going to be approved. So we had to figure out
what the rules were in all the different countries for getting generics into people’s … Like Serbia, we just, the first shipment
we sent there, it got seized. Basically we were doing
a country by country assessment. We would use third party volunteers
in other countries where the rules were better. We just figured it out ways of getting around
every blockage that we can, so nowadays I can guarantee delivery
to absolutely every country on earth. Hey! Hey, how are you? Nice meeting you. Long time, huh? The present for the patients. Just open it and see it, yeah? So me and Aree were introduced by Greg
about a year ago. Aree was probably, you know, looking to
source the Indian license generics. A big reason for us to collaborate with
a lot of these buyers’ clubs which might have not of legality
in their way of operations, but definitely on a ranking of moral,
they have a much more higher ranking as compared to a big pharmaceutical company. I come in India
and I take the meds from here, the generics, I give to the patients the treatment. The treatment is very well. I choose not to show my face
because I need to protect me and my family. It is very risky for me
because of the customs, you know? How you pass with the treatment. If they stop me,
I tell it’s for me and my family. I’m very relieved,
I’m very happy, nothing has happened
and I passed the border, the customs and everything and all is OK. In our country we have a lot of poor people
who don’t have money for treatment who wait at the doctor
for some prescription or something. Some people receive it but in the last moment …
and it’s already too late. About a million people every year
are going through this. There’s about a million new
infections every year. One of the very early things
I had to deal with was the fact that in a lot of countries what I
was doing was illegal, I was smuggling drugs. And that caused me some concern
but the reality is, the high portion of the people
who I get the medication to, will die if they don’t have the medication. So, ethically and morally,
I have no problem with breaking the law in countries where it is illegal
to do what I am doing. I became aware that I treading on the toes of a big pharma very early in the piece. I got a letter from Gilead
and it was a cease-and-desist official legal letter. Suddenly I couldn’t access
my blog website anymore. The password had been changed. I said, well, can you tell me
what the complaint was about? No? Is there anything I can do to fix it up? No. Using Gilead’s own documents,
the evidence shows that the company pursued a calculated scheme
for pricing and marketing its hepatitis C drug based on one goal – maximising revenue
regardless of the human consequences. It’s time to talk to Gilead,
the manufacturer of Solvadi. It is an outrage that you have a company whose profits
have soared in the last few years. Their revenues have doubled,
I believe, in the last year, they’ve come up with a drug,
they are charging the general public a $1,000 a pill for that drug. The original price was about the same as
the therapies that are currently available. The therapies that were
available five years ago had about a five to 10% cure rate and were quite toxic. We saw that the new regiments,
Sovaldi being one of them, as being more effective,
much more effective, 80%, 90%, 95% and much safer. So we thought pricing it around about
the same level was something that made sense. Actually what we found is that so many
patients needed treating very quickly that the total cost
to the health systems was a lot. So we sat down with patients,
with governments, with payers, and looked at a more reasonable price
so more patients could receive therapy quickly. The cost of research and development
is very high and for every drug that we research
and bring forward to market there are many others that don’t make it. So those costs are extremely high. Somewhere in the system
we need to recover those costs, so we are going to invest
in more good research. And so really the pricing model,
the price did start higher and it’s now at a more, you know,
affordable level so that globally we can get much more
rapidly to elimination. They made all their costs back
the first year they released it. It’s like the discovery of penicillin
but the difference is the guy who discovered penicillin, didn’t patent it. He said, this drug is so important
and will save so many lives and these direct-acting antiviral drugs,
are just as revolutionary as penicillin the difference is that the person who owns this technology has holds onto it with great avarice and will not share,
and will not give it away. Patents are very important, they give patents for anything
that people sell. You have made a scientific discovery in
this case that’s bringing a significant benefit to patients and we need revenue to fund more research,
and that’s what we do. We bring many more innovations forward. So, the patent system protects
that economic model. I think it’s our responsibility to make sure that we understand how a medicine will be used in this case to cure patients and make sure that
that’s something that is available. So, we never want barriers to patient access. But it’s being priced so high
that no one can afford it. And it’s only because
we’ve got places like India that people like me … I mean, I would be dead now
if it wasn’t for the Indian generics. I am really looking forward to see
the differences I will feel in my life, because I don’t know what the hepatitis C
is causing in my life, now I have this strange pain in my legs
and in my muscles. The problem with the cost of medication
is not just in the hepatitis C area. So, it’s in cancer for example,
diabetes … all kinds of areas. And in all cases, the cost of medication
is crippling health systems all around the world. It really does need a revolution
because at the moment, these medical corporates
have so much wealth, so much money, They are able to corrupt the systems,
they are able to influence politicians, they are able to pay lobbyists and in doing so, they are bleeding
the health systems of the world dry. To me the problem is simple:
greed.

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