A new UNITAID study considers how to make essential medicines available and affordable to those in need.
Drawing examples from intellectual-property issues in the treatment of HIV, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and cancer, the authors recommend various options that governments can take to lower prices and increase access to essential medicines.
In May 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) added several medicines – including some for the treatment of cancer, tuberculosis and hepatitis C – to its Model List of Essential Medicines. These new medicines, which are currently priced out of reach to most patients – present a key opportunity to use the List as a tool for access, argue the authors.
The World Trade Organization’s TRIPS agreement sets minimum standards for the protection of intellectual property rights – so members can no longer exclude entire fields of technology, such as medicines, from patentability. Innovative new medicines are increasingly patented around the world, and are thus available only at monopoly prices that prevent widespread access.
This paper suggests numerous options that governments could consider to counter this trend. Such options include:
- Negotiating prices with originator companies for discounts in certain territories;
- Ensuring sustainable supplies of low-cost generics, including through voluntary or compulsory licensing or “government use” of patents;
- Ensuring sustainable development of future essential medicines through models that delink the cost of medicines development from the final price of the medical product.
“The recent shifts in the WHO Essential Medicines paradigm demand a bold approach to avoid unnecessary delays in making these medicines available to the populations in need,” write the authors.
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