Member States adopt decision to strengthen collaboration on improving access to medicines

WHO/Franz Henriksen

On 13 September 2017, at the 67th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe held in Budapest, Hungary, countries adopted a decision to strengthen collaboration to improve access to quality, affordable medicines.

A film featuring Josef Probst, Director-General of the Main Association of Austrian Social Security Institutions, opened the session and provided a payer’s perspective on the topic, highlighting the increasing costs to the national budget from pharmaceuticals. Access to medicines is essential to universal health coverage, noted Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the WHO Division of Health Systems and Public Health, in his opening presentation. “However, new high-priced medicines in the European Region pose a challenge for most countries, and for some, they remain unaffordable,” he added. A number of WHO Member States echoed this message at the session.

During discussions, delegates highlighted the enormous challenges of providing medicines at a financially sustainable price; the lack of transparency in the real cost of medicine development and production; and the complexities of intellectual property rights and trade agreements.

Austria emphasized that the issue is not so much technical as political, and noted that it is up to policy-makers to frame the market in which the pharmaceutical industry works. Norway reaffirmed that providing access to certain medicines is a challenge even for high-income countries, and the Netherlands expressed its objection to value-based pricing of medicines.

Member States agreed on the importance of collaborating to share best practices on pricing and reimbursement and strategic procurement, to advance access to medicines. They noted that political will and mutual trust are essential for this. Countries also acknowledged WHO’s role in providing technical support and in fostering collaboration.

In a statement, the World Heart Federation reiterated that all stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry, must work together to achieve fair pricing; that is, medicine prices which are affordable for health systems and patients, and that at the same time provide sufficient market incentive for industry to invest in innovation and the production of medicines. In this context, fairness implies positive incentives and/or benefits for all stakeholders, including purchasers and those involved in the research and development and manufacture of medicines. Various civil society organizations acknowledged the discussion as a valuable one.