Equitable access to high-cost pharmaceuticals


New book edited by Professor at University of Huddersfield, explores the issue of high cost medicines across Europe and Australasia with contributions from 30 experts worldwide

Equitable access to high-cost pharmaceuticals

Access to the best medicine has been enshrined as a human right. But many healthcare systems are already spending half of their budgets on drugs, while ageing populations in countries such as the UK are creating increased demand for high-cost treatment.

So how can that access be made affordable? A new book edited by a University of Huddersfield Professor explores the issue.

Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar is Professor in Medicines and Healthcare at the University’s Department of Pharmacy. He is globally recognised for his research in pharmaceutical policy and practice. His latest book, Equitable access to high-cost pharmaceuticals, has contributions from almost 30 experts around the world.

Chapters within the book examine the issue of high cost medicines in a wide variety of countries, including England, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal and Europe as a whole. The emphasis of the book is on higher income countries, although there is also a chapter on low income countries in Africa.

“According to the UN, access to medicine is a fundamental human right, like access to water or sanitation. So we do not need to treat it like other commodities and that is where the tension arises,” said Professor Babar.

“In some countries, 50% of the health budget is going on high-cost drugs such as anti-cancer medicine, drugs for immunological disorders, blood disorders or rheumatoid arthritis, for example. Who has the responsibility for making these medicines affordable?”

According to Professor Babar, the new book, through analysis of solutions developed in a wide range of countries, will be useful for funding agencies and researchers around the world, enabling them to make comparisons.

“The issue is going to be more complex in the future, because people are living longer, meaning they will have more serious illness. So funding of high cost medicines, taking the biggest chunk of health budgets, is going to be more crucial.”

Professor Babar describes the newly-published Equitable Access to High-Cost Pharmaceuticals as an exercise in documenting current practice, establishing a baseline. A follow-up book – now in the planning stage – will offer solutions and recommendations.

But among the issues explored in the current book is the funding and reimbursement of new medicines. New models are needed, said Professor Babar.

“The pharmacy industry is charging so much because it argues that it is investing a lot in R&D. But there is a lot of public money involved in drug development – through universities for example – so the public is effectively paying twice.”

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This could lead to a case for the price of drugs to be de-linked from the cost of their development, said Professor Babar. The new book also has chapters that explore issues such as intellectual property rights and universal access to essential medicines.