The Indonesian 'Dallas Buyers Club'

By Lauren Farrow

Inspired by Dallas Buyers Club, the executive director of Indonesia Aids Coalition, Aditya Wardhana, started his own buyers club. Photo / iStock
Inspired by Dallas Buyers Club, the executive director of Indonesia Aids Coalition, Aditya Wardhana, started his own buyers club. Photo / iStock

Carting drugs in suitcases across international borders, moving buyers to throw off customs and shifting the travel routes of parcels.

If it sounds like a scene out of the Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club, you would be right.

Inspired by the movie that charts the true story of Ron Woodroof who smuggled unapproved drugs into the US to treat Aids during the 1980s, executive director of Indonesia Aids Coalition (IAC) Aditya Wardhana started his own buyers club in July last year in a direct challenge to the country's lack of affordable and up-to-date medication for hepatitis C.

From a small office in Jakarta he and his colleagues Bani Risset and Putri Sindi have helped 66 people access the newest combinations of drugs.

Were they to buy them in Indonesia a 12-week treatment programme with the patent version of the newest drug combinations costs up to US$94,000.

Through the buyers club, people can access the generic version from India for US$695 to US$970.

But getting the drugs isn't easy. "We work in the grey area," Aditya told AAP.

They aren't breaking the law as all medication is for personal use and not sold at a profit, he added.

Nevertheless pharmaceutical companies aren't pleased the drugs are making their way into Indonesia through back channels, so shipments are sometimes stopped or seized by customs.

To get around this, Aditya has to travel to India sometimes. "You cannot imagine that sometimes I bring around 40 bottles in my suitcase to Indonesia. Hopefully we never get caught by Indonesian customs."

They time flights in order to be as discrete as possible and shift package routes through third countries, such as Dubai and Thailand.

"Sometimes our initiative is being shut down for maybe a month or two weeks and needs to be moved from one city in India to another."

Around three million Indonesians have hepatitis C and only an old combination of medical treatment is available at the capital's main hospital.

Health Ministry's Director for infection disease prevention, Wiendra Waworuntu acknowledged how expensive medications were in Indonesia and said listing new treatment for hepatitis C was a priority for the National Insurance Scheme next year.

But Bani said it is not just hepatitis C medication that is a problem.

He has also been diagnosed with bipolar, with medication setting him back three million rupiah (approximately A$300). This, in a country where the World Bank estimates around 40 per cent of the population are clustered around the national poverty line - earning around 331,000 rupiah (A$33) per month.

"I'm doing everything to pay for the medication. I'm doing internet marketing ... IAC job. I need the money," Bani said.

"Just IAC (and the buyers club) has helped me. The Government has not helped me."

The Indonesian business competition watchdog, KPPU and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are currently examining the barriers facing supply and affordability in the pharmaceutical industry.

As for the club, they are now being contacted by people with cancer and heart disease trying to gain access to affordable medicine.

"Our main aim is to open our Government's eyes to show them that many of the Indonesian people still need medicine," Aditya says. "We are replacing your role, your responsibility to provide access."


Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 29 Oct 2016 05:11:27 Processing Time: 722ms