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20 May 2014Generics

UNDP urges use of competition law to boost healthcare access

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has released a guidebook for low- to middle- income countries (LMICs) on how to increase access to essential health technologies and HIV treatments by using competition law and policy.

Published on May 16, Using Competition Law to Promote Access to Health Technologies builds on independent body the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s recommendation that “countries … proactively use other areas of law and policy, such as competition law, price control policy and procurement law [to] help increase access to pharmaceutical products.”

Report co-author Frederick Abbott, a professor of law at Florida State University, said that governments and civil society actors in an increasing number of countries have used competition law to promote healthy, open and fair market conditions in the health technologies sector.

“Yet many others are only now recognising the importance of competition law, and are beginning to devote more legislative and administrative resources to the field,” he added.

While access to HIV treatments has increased in recent years, the report said, more patients need to start treatment earlier, and on newer, more expensive medicines.

“Fourteen years ago, the cost of HIV treatment was $10,000 per patient per year. Today, internationally approved first-line treatment regimens are a little more than $100 per patient per year,” it said.

Generic competition was an “indispensible part of this success, and is well accepted as one of the key drivers for expanding access to HIV treatment,” it added.

As an example, it cited a finding by the South African Competition Commission which led two pharmaceutical companies to conclude licences with generic drug makers, and created more competition and lower prices for a number of antiretroviral medicines.

Mandeep Dhaliwal, director of UNDP’s HIV, health and development practice, said that the TRIPS Agreement contains “important flexibilities” for World Trade Organization members to promote access to treatments, although competition law is among the least discussed of them.

“There is a great untapped opportunity for LMICs to incorporate and use competition law to get better value for money and in the longer term to sustain national treatment programmes,” she said.

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