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Novartis to provide 'no profit' COVID-19 drugs to low income countries

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Health Desk-17 July, 2020: Novartis's Sandoz division will not profit from 15 generic drugs it is making available to developing countries to treat symptoms of COVID-19 for the pandemic's duration, the Swiss drugmaker said on Thursday.

Novartis's pledge to provide the antibiotics, steroids and diarrhea pills to 79 countries on the World Bank's list of low- and lower-middle income nations prompted the Doctors Without Borders non-governmental organisation (NGO) to call for more transparency on drug pricing and for the industry to follow "no profiteering" initiatives for new COVID-19 medicines.

While Novartis has not seen supply chain disruptions for these medicines, Novartis Global Health Chief Operating Officer Lutz Hegemann told Reuters the programme aimed to help vulnerable healthcare systems in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe from becoming overloaded.

"We shouldn't underestimate the stress that COVID puts particularly on fragile health systems," Hegemann said, adding Novartis hoped to work with health authorities, faith-based organisations and NGOs to eliminate big mark-ups. "We are not targeting classical commercial distribution channels, but very direct channels."

The 15 drugs include several antibiotics, the steroid dexamethasone that has seen some success in treating severe COVID-19 cases, heart failure drug dobutamine, antifungal fluconazole and lung drug salbutamol, among others.