High-Priced Medicines and Lack of Needs-Driven Innovation: A Global Crisis That Fuels Inequality. 9/2017

Published by OXFAAMERICA

In 2015, the UN Secretary-General established a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines to ‘review and assess proposals and recommend solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies’. The High-Level Panel (HLP) report, released in September 2016, was welcomed by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who ‘encouraged all stakeholders to review the report and its recommendations’ and ‘to chart a way forward in appropriate fora to ensure access to medicines and health technologies for all who need them, wherever they are.’

One year later, the UN and relevant UN agencies have not taken action to move the report’s recommendations forward. Direct opposition by some governments –especially the United States –and pharmaceutical companies has caused unnecessary delays. Yet many governments, experts and civil society organizations have welcomed the report, reaffirming the need for new ways to address the global crisis of high medicine prices and lack of needs-driven innovation. The current system for biomedical research and development (R&D) is driven by market dynamics, as pharmaceutical companies invest in medicines that can produce the highest profit. This model results inunaffordable prices.

The pricesof new and even some old medicines continue to be too high to be affordable across the world. In South Africa, a 12-month course of Herceptin, a breast cancer medicine produced by Roche, costs approximately US$38,000 or about five times the country’s average household income. The price of the first real cure for hepatitis C was launched at a cost of US$1,000/pill/day, which would require around US$300bn in order to treat the three million infected people in the United States. The same story is repeated in other countries.

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