With the UN General Assembly convening in New York to discuss all manner of policy issues, one high-profile area of debate is the appropriate role of governments and regulators in ensuring that as many people as possible have access to the medicines they need. As always when the UN meets, some of the ideas for increasing access to medicines are sensible — but others rather less so. In the first category, helpful suggestions include structural reforms at the national and international level to lower costs of critical medicines. In the second category… well, just read on.
- The Geneva Network, an international group of think tanks, has produced a report with a compilation of suggestions for programmatic reforms at all levels of the medicine supply chain to make drugs cheaper and more widely available. The suggestions address the key challenges identified by UN participants ahead of the General Assembly in the context of the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals, including the rapidly increasing incidence of noncommunicable disease (NCD) and high out-of-pocket costs for health consumers. Increasing access to drugs has to figure large in any strategy to tackle these problems.
- The Geneva Network report presents solutions falling under a number of broad action areas. These include reducing taxes on medicines; abolishing tariffs; do away with trade barriers behind the border, often called non-tariff barriers to trade; speeding up examination of new patent applications; speeding up the process of regulatory review and new drug approval; getting drugs approved for reimbursement under national healthcare systems more quickly; and allowing free trade in medicines.
- In contrast to these constructive suggestions, however, this year’s General Assembly may well see a return of short-term thinking in the form of policy suggestions that would simply strip pharmaceutical companies of their intellectual property or subject them to arbitrary price controls — undermining the incentives that encourage investment in innovation to produce new treatments in future. Worse still, these measures actually do nothing to help patients get access to the drugs they need. The likely negative impacts of this approach are outlined here.