The Price for Medical Drugs Are On The Rise

When pharmaceutical company Nostrum Laboratories bought over an old but commonly used antibiotic to treat urinary tract infections, no one took much notice. However, when it was soon discovered that that company raised the price of their antibiotic drug by more than 400 percent, everyone quickly paid attention – approximately 19.6 percent of Europeans who suffer from the infections to be exact.

Some professionals call it ‘cynical opportunism’, while others consider it as an ‘opportunistic greed in its most indefensible form.’ In either case, it is evident that there is a shift in the way medical companies view pharmaceutical drugs, where prices have skyrocketed in recent years. Fair pricing of medical drugs is becoming a thing of the past.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), has recently expressed their concern for the lack of transparency in pricing medication as it presents global human rights issue. They have estimated that this disruption in fair pricing for medical drugs has pushed 100 million people into poverty worldwide, affecting some countries like South Africa or the Philippines. With such a dilemma present, great effort has been done to research the root to this predicament and its effects on medical consumers and patients alike.

One of the leading drivers for the rise in prices is profits or monetary gain as pricing strategically changes based on the country. For example, most European countries pay less in medical drugs than others in African countries. According to the American Diabetes Association, US citizens pay almost 6 times more for insulin than their European counterparts do.

Competition and distribution of these medical drugs mandate a generation of such profits. For example, as there is still no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, medical care to treat the ailment is still restricted to oral care. However, companies that supply the oral drug now have the opportunity to control the flow and cost of it to accommodate their needs. Furthermore, it was discovered that some high-income countries struggle as they are forced to ration medicines for cancer, hepatitis C and other rare diseases.

At the 2019 Global Fair Pricing of Medicine Forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa, members and delegates of the WHO and other civil society organisations have voiced their concerns over the soaring prices. They defined ‘fair pricing’ as an affordable price for healthcare systems and patients alike, all the while providing sufficient incentive to encourage further investment and innovation for future medical products. The problem today is there is no transparency on how current prices are set by these companies in relation to the costs derived from R&D and other production costs.

WHO Assistant Director General for Medicines and Health Products, Dr. Mariângela Simão, mentioned during the forum:

Medical innovation has little social value if most people cannot access its benefits… This is a global human rights issue – everyone has a right to access quality healthcare.”

Although events like this have generated awareness to the issue of fair pricing in the healthcare industry, there is still a bit more work to be done. European countries like Austria have been working on sharing policies with other European members, like the Pharmaceutical Pricing and Reimbursement Policies or PPRI, that would expand the access to medicines. Also, WHO is hoping to launch a public online consultation platform to collect the views and opinions of fair pricing of medicine with relevant stakeholders in the field.

References:

  1. World Health Organisation, April 2019, WHO
  2. Medical prices- A Global Issue, April 2019, PhilStar
  3. Tackling the high price of medicine, April 2019, DailyMaverick 
  4. How much does hepatitis C treatment cost?, November 2018, MedicalNews
  5. The Case for Expensive Antibiotics, September 2018, WIRED
  6. Global epidemiology of urinary tract infections, NCBI