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Governments must act on new UN Report to bring down the cost of medicines says Oxfam

By Oxfam

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Oxfam welcomed a groundbreaking new report on access to medicines published today by a High Level Panel of the United Nations and called for the UN to work with governments to implement its recommendations without delay.

During the Panel’s deliberations, the US State Department and pharmaceutical industry criticized the report and expert group, politicizing the process and putting the Panel’s crucial recommendations at risk.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam, and a member of the High Level Panel that produced the report said: 

“This report gets to the heart of the problem with access to medicines – that the intellectual property rules promoted by the pharmaceutical industry are at odds with the human right to health. If implemented the report’s recommendations will go a long way towards ensuring all people have access to affordable quality medicines.

“Access to medicines is not just a poor country problem. The high price of drugs is crippling healthcare systems across the world. Millions of people are suffering and dying because the medicines they need are too expensive. The UN should work with governments to ensure the report’s recommendations are acted upon straight away.”

The price of new medicines has risen dramatically in recent years:

  • Portrazza, a new drug to treat lung cancer is expected to cost $11,430 a month in the US - six times the $1,870 that leading oncologists say is a fair reflection of the benefit the drug offers compared with older therapies 
  • In South Africa the cost of a Linezolid pill – used in the treatment of drug resistant Tuberculosis - put the drug out of the reach of the majority of people until the patent expired and the government was able to provide a generic equivalent at a cost of just $6.86 per pill. 
  • The cost of medicines to treat Hepatitis C can over $100,000 per patient. In France, it was calculated that providing medicines to treat all people with Hepatitis C would exceed the annual budget of the public hospitals in Paris. The Netherlands government’s submission to the HLP said: “We have an estimated 20,000 patients with this disease... such costs make our healthcare unaffordable. If we continue in this way, it will become nearly impossible to reimburse patients for these medications.

The panel’s recommendations include: governments begin to negotiate a new global agreement on research and development (R&D) based on the human right to health which de-links the financing of R&D from the price of products; increasing public financing for R&D; and ensuring countries have the power to protect access to affordable medicines under international trade rules and in free trade agreements.

Oxfam calls on the UN to take further steps to explore more bold recommendations such as immediate ban on intellectual property rules in trade agreements.

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