snopes | ORIGIN: The high cost of medications in the United States has been a major topic of discussion since well before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. While it is possible to get extraordinarily good health care in the U.S., the price of such care — or any care — is often prohibitive, often far more than in any other developed country.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause progressive liver damage, and also increases the likelihood of developing liver cancer or cirrhosis. Because it is a bloodborne illness, hepatitis C often spread through sharing needles or receiving blood transfusions. Until very recently, the disease had no cure.
Enter Gilead Sciences, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that developed a pill called sofosbuvir (brand name: Sovaldi), which completely cures the disease over a twelve-week period. It is more effective when combined with a newer drug, ledivaspir, to make a cocktail patented as Harvoni.
The treatment is hailed as a miracle drug, especially in parts of India that are dramatically affected by hepatitis, commonly spread there (as in other developing countries) by tainted needles used and re-used for injections and transfusions and exacerbated by impoverished and cramped living conditions.
When Gilead began to market Sovaldi in 2013, it set the price at $1,000 per pill and $84,000 for a full course of treatment — at least, in the United States. Because Gilead entered a series of marketing agreements with generic drug companies in India, and because India is extremely strict in limiting what can and cannot be legally patented there, a month's worth of sofosbuvir treatment initially retailed there for the equivalent of USD$300 (or, as the meme says, $900 for the full course of treatment; the cost of treatment further dropped over time to about $4 a pill). Patents guarantee exclusive sales for at least a decade in the United States before competition from generic drugs is allowed.