Government's reliance on free market economics makes essential drug prices too high for the poor

Mar 27, 2007

Research in Malaysia, published in the latest PLoS Medicine, has established that drugs considered essential for adequate health care are often priced beyond the reach of the poorer members of society. It would cost, for example, three days wages for a low-paid government worker to buy a month’s supply of a commonly prescribed stomach ulcer pill.

The researchers, from Malaysia and from France, looked at the cost of 48 key drugs across the country; 28 were part of a "core list" identified by the World Health Organization as "essential drugs" on the basis of the global burden of disease and 20 reflected health care needs in Malaysia itself. The costs of each medicine were collected from government hospitals, private pharmacies, and dispensing doctors.

The researchers noted both the prices of the "innovator brands’ (made by the original patent holder) and of "generic" brands (an equivalent drug produced by a different company once the exclusive patent has expired). Prices were compared against international reference prices (IRP), which are the average prices offered by not-for-profit drug companies to developing countries. The researchers also compared t he cost of the drugs with daily wages, in order to work out their "affordability."

Prices were on average up to 16 times higher than the IRP. The availability of medicines was also poor, with only 25% of generic medicines available through the public sector. One month’s supply of ranitidine (a drug for stomach ulcers) was equivalent to around three days’ wages for a low-paid government worker, and one month’s supply of fluoxetine (an antidepressant) would cost around 26 days’ wages.

The cost of medicines in Malaysia appears to be much higher than in India and Sri Lanka, where there are government regulations intended to make medicines affordable. In contrast, Malaysia allows market forces to determine drug prices. The researchers say that the Malaysian government should set up mechanisms to prevent drug manufacturers from increasing prices too much and thus ensure greater access to essential medicines. The research has implications for health policy in other parts of the world.

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: FDA approves new drug for rare genetic disease

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US Gulf oyster harvest nose-dives since BP spill

Aug 12, 2014

Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew in the U.S.'s worst offshore oil disaster, spilling millions of gallons off Louisiana's coast in 2010.

States debate digital currency

Aug 01, 2014

Now that consumers can use digital currencies like bitcoin to buy rugs from Overstock.com, pay for Peruvian pork sandwiches from a food truck in Washington, D.C., and even make donations to political action committees, states ...

Drugmaker GSK slashes annual profits forecast

Jul 23, 2014

British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline on Wednesday slashed its 2014 profits forecast as second-quarter earnings sank on the back of weak US trade, adverse currency moves and a Chinese bribery probe.

Bitcoin ATM builder targets money-transfer business

Jul 10, 2014

In a makeshift office - a living room crowded with desks, monitors and a beanbag chair - programmers are hacking away on computers, aiming to make their mark on the multibillion-dollar financial services industry.

Recommended for you

Boxed warnings are common in novel therapeutics

Aug 19, 2014

(HealthDay)—Boxed warnings are common on recent drug approvals, and many occur years after approval, according to a research letter published online Aug. 15 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

AstraZeneca says DOJ closes probe into drug trial

Aug 19, 2014

British drugmaker AstraZeneca says the U.S. Department of Justice has closed its investigation into a clinical trial of the company's blood thinner Brilinta, and plans no further action.

Perampanel for epilepsy: Still no proof of added benefit

Aug 19, 2014

The drug perampanel (trade name Fycompa) has been approved since July 2012 as adjunctive ("add-on") therapy for adults and children aged 12 years and older with epileptic fits (seizures). In a new early benefit assessment ...

User comments : 0