By Rosie James, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health
On Wednesday May 2nd, over 160 delegates gathered at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin city to discuss the problems and solutions of the high prices of new medicines in Ireland and around the world.
The one-day conference was organized by Dr Kieran Harkin, a Dublin-based GP with a special interest in access to medicines. In 2017, Harkin founded Access to Medicines Ireland, along with long-standing access advocate and Just Treatment founder Diarmaid McDonald, junior doctor Ciara Conlan and HIV activist Robbie Lawlor. The supporters of the conference included the Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH), Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders in Ireland (MSF), Comhlámh, and RCSI.
Opening remarks were made by Mr. Brendan Howlin TD, Labour Party leader.
The conference featured two panel discussions: the first on global access and the following on Irish and European access. While each speaker passionately demonstrated their unique perspectives on the issue, they found common ground on the causes of high prices – strict patent laws and a lack of R&D incentives for certain drugs.
The first panel’s keynote speaker was Ellen ‘t Hoen, an Intellectual Property rights expert from the University of Groningen who also spoke at the inaugural Access to Medicines conference last year. ‘t Hoen introduced the problems facing access to medicines, which include 25-year patents, a lack of incentives for investing in “curable” conditions such as Hepatitis C, and the lack of transparency into the cost versus the price of medicines.
A poignant part of the day was when Babalwa Malgas, a South African lawyer and HER2+ breast cancer survivor spoke about her very personal journey regarding access to Herceptin (Trastuzumab). She reminded the audience that citizens are dying every day from disease that could be prevented if drug patents weren’t restricting pricing.
Proposed solutions to these problems include de-linking the costs of R&D from the prices paid by patients and hospitals, alliances such as the BeNeLuxA union between industry and government, compulsory licenses, and public funding incentives for new R&D such as the GARDP DNDi initiative.
One takeaway that emerged at the conference was the need for a focus on a collective, non-fragmented approach on access to medicines, one that can include government, industry, policy-makers and the general public.
Following on from this conference, participating organisations are continuing their advocacy work. Students at RCSI are currently setting up a Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) branch. Access to Medicines Ireland will have their next meeting on May 23rd at 18:00 in Comhlámh.
May 2nd, 2018
Rosie is a Canadian-British medical student, originally from Vancouver. Since 2015, she has been studying medicine at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. She is passionate about improving global health through health promotion and disease prevention projects.
Her experience in the global health field ranges from volunteering for multiple science and health organizations, to interning for the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe. Rosie is a member of the IFGH board, Student Outreach Group lead, and co-chair for the Association of Medical Students Ireland (AMSI) at NUI Galway. She is also the national coordinator for Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) Ireland, an organization that is committed to changing the R&D system in universities to encourage better access to medicines worldwide.