By Megan Hayes, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health
“Information is power” was the running theme of Dimitri Eynikel’s talk on improving access to medicines at the Access to Medicines conference in RCSI on April 16. Dimitri has worked with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) on several healthcare projects in the DRC, South Africa, and Afghanistan. Since 2017 he has been representing MSF’s Access Campaign at the European Union to ensure medicines are available and affordable in countries where MSF works.
He spoke about the importance of transparency in governments’ negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, shedding light on the number of nations that sign confidentiality agreements as part of an incentive to get a “better deal” for whatever drug they are purchasing. This secrecy surrounding the process of purchasing has lead to exorbitant increases in prices, forcing countries to spend money on medicines at unsustainable rates. He argued that transparency going forward will help to solve the issue and MSF is working to untangle that web.
Another issue he drew attention to is the cost of research and development and how although it is often a collaborative effort, with input from public funding, academics, tax breaks, grants, patient trials and health professionals working on clinical trials—all crucial to research and development, the end product is generally controlled by a single commercial enterprise. He gave the example of how when 19 different industry sources were tasked with estimating the cost to develop a new medication, the estimation of costs ranged from €30.3 million to €2.9 billion. There is clearly a need here for careful documentation of the drug manufacturing process and a requirement to accurately price the medication to reflect expenditure. Increased knowledge sharing on who spends what in the R&D sector will help to inform debates and negotiations for lower prices, Dmitriy explained.
In May, the World Health Assembly will meet to discuss a resolution on drug pricing transparency. Italy’s Minister of Health has written an open letter on the ministry’s website, calling for other countries to support transparency of the market for drugs, vaccines, and other health related technologies. Transparency here is necessary for the sustainability of a nation’s public health service. This proposed resolution is important for the health of the global population. Information is power in these negotiations and power, in this instance, will save lives.