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20 June 2019Big Pharma

Generic drugs cost 30x more in poor countries: report

Generic medicines can cost up to 30 times more in poor countries, according to a new study.

The report, “Tackling the Triple Transition in Global Health Procurement”,  was published on Monday, June 17 and examined spending on basic, life-saving medicines in 40 countries.

Published by US-based non-profit organisation the Center for Global Development (CGD), the report covered countries including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Zambia and Tunisia.

Amanda Glassman, one of the authors of the study and executive vice president at the CGD, said the high cost of generic drugs in these countries was largely the result of “flawed drug buying practices and broken generic medicines markets”.

Kalipso Chalkidou, director of global health policy at the CGD, said that in poorer countries, patients are paying the price.

“You need enough competition to keep prices low and quality assurance that consumers trust, or essential medicines are going to be much more expensive than they should be.”

The study found that in some low and middle-income countries, like Zambia and Senegal, generic medicines like omeprazole, which is used to treat heartburn, or common pain relievers such as paracetamol, cost up to 20 or 30 times more than they would in wealthy countries.

Additionally, it found that in developing countries, more expensive brand-name generics are more widely used because there is a greater concern surrounding unsafe or counterfeit drugs. In poorer countries, generics make up just 5% of the pharmaceutical market by volume, while in the US they make up 85% of the market, but only about a third by cost.

The report found there is little competition in the supply of essential medicines in low and middle-income countries.

“The largest seller of products like contraceptives, cancer medicines, and antiparasitics can account for upwards of 85% of all sales in some countries,” the report found.

“We’re talking about access to common medications for pain or high blood pressure, not the latest cutting-edge cancer drugs,” Glassman said.

“It’s not as exciting to talk about procurement as new health technologies or biotech breakthroughs,” she added. “But drug purchasing is incredibly important, and if it’s done badly you end up with the poorest countries in the world paying some of the highest drug prices.”

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