Drug companies should cut prices for developing countries, says G8 report

Key pharmaceuticals should be sold to developing countries at much lower prices than they command in the richer parts of the world, says a British–led report on global access to medicines.

The report of the UK Working Group on Increasing Access to Essential Medicines in the Developing World, chaired by Britain's International Development Secretary, Clare Short, was commissioned by the G8 group of the world's richest countries, and involved UK drugs companies as well as developing countries in the lengthy negotiations leading to its publication. The companies involved have effectively ''signed up'' to its conclusions, but US companies, which dominate the world market in pharmaceuticals, were notable absentees.

The report should now go before the next G8 summit in France in June, if the French Government, which will chair the meeting, agrees to put it on the agenda. Its reception by the assembled governments will then decide the future of its proposals.

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, discussed the report at 10 Downing Street, London, last November, at a working breakfast with WHO's Director–General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland; the Ugandan High Commissioner, Professor George Kirya; Chris Viehbacher of GlaxoSmithKline; other pharmaceutical industry leaders; and representatives of the European Commission and charitable foundations.

Although Clare Short's spokeswoman described the breakfast as ''private'', it is clear that the main issue was how to implement the report's recommendations. According to the report itself, while Europe is more or less on board, the US position is less clear. ''The European Commission has laid much of the groundwork for this agenda in Europe through their Plan for Action,'' the report states, ''resulting in a European Parliament Resolution. Further work will need to be done to secure the commitment of European governments and industry to work in partnership on this agenda. Working with the US Government and gaining their support will be particularly critical given the importance and size of the US Industry. Continued dialogue directly with US Industry may be a promising way forward. There may be scope for tabling this agenda through regional and global industry associations''.

According to Dr Brundtland, improving access to medicines will not be easy. ''It is a complex struggle where governments, a range of actors in the private sector, and civil society all play important roles''.

On the company side, John Patterson of AstraZeneca, commented: ''this is a many–faceted challenge and needs the best efforts of all of us, in partnership, to make an impact. Companies are committed to making their contribution ... by providing more and better medicines so that they can be accessed more easily by patients in the developing world, without undermining the ability of industry to operate in the developed world.''

Chris Viehbacher said ''Glaxo– SmithKline welcomes this Report.'' He claimed that his company already offered ''sustainable, not–for–profit preferential prices for our antiretrovirals and antimalarials to a wide range of customers in all the least developed countries and all of sub–Saharan Africa — a total of 63 countries''. But increasing the scope of preferential pricing ''requires a sustainable framework, incorporating ... barriers against diversion of product. [This report] is a very useful step towards meeting these needs.''

The full report is available from: URL: www.dfid.gov.uk/Pubs/files/access_to_medicines_report28.11.pdf

Robert Walgate, Bulletin

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland
E-mail: bulletin@who.int