Kenya has become the first country to take up the Novartis Access programme, under which the Swiss drug giant is providing a batch of essential medicines at a cost of $1 per treatment per month. 

The 15 therapies on offer all target chronic diseases such as diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and breast cancer, the idea being to increase access to potentially life-saving medicines and thereby help reign in their growing spread in areas with limited access to healthcare.

In Kenya, noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, respiratory illnesses and breast cancer account for 27% of deaths, or almost 100,000 people per year. But, by 2030, it is estimated that they will be responsible for more than 60% of deaths, highlighting the urgent need for intervention. 

The Kenyan government has just launched a new strategy for the prevention, control and management of NCDs, and Novartis said it will also partner with organisations such as the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the Kenyan Red Cross to help support the healthcare system through measures such as strengthening drug distribution channels and training healthcare workers. 

The drugmaker has also brought onboard Boston University in the US to measure the impact on health in Kenya and steer ongoing development of Novartis Access.

Working together

“The most pressing health problems can only be solved if the public sector, civil society and the private sector work together,” said 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.”

Novartis is intending to roll out the Novartis Access programme also in Ethiopia and Vietnam, and ultimately in as many as 30 countries depending on uptake.