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UK government refuses to sign up to WHO pricing transparency resolution

Published on 29/05/19 at 12:03pm
Image Credit: United States Mission Geneva

The UK government has refused to sign up to a global resolution on transparency in drug pricing which urges governments to share information on the prices they pay for drugs.

The draft resolution would urge World Health Organization (WHO) member states to share and distribute information on: the prices paid for medicines, the costs of developing those medicines, and the revenues generated through sales of medicines.

The resolution was put forward by Andorra, Brazil, Egypt, Eswatini, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Portugal, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Uganda.

The draft resolution, which was discussed at the WHO’s World Health Assembly (WHA), was described as ‘game changing’ by those campaigning for price transparency and ‘enthusiastically welcomed’ by the United States.

However WHO member states including the UK, Germany, and Japan disassociated themselves from the resolution which had been ‘watered down’ in an effort to secure support.

An earlier draft would have given the WHO the power to collect and analyse data on the costs of making and trialling drugs.

Many of those opposing the resolution rely on their ability to secure steep discounts from drugmakers to keep their costs down.

Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN and WTO in Geneva, said: “The issues, structures and economic principles of improving access to medicines are complex and multi-dimensional. The UK has been keen to ensure that where preferential and differential pricing is working well in lower income countries, new approaches to transparency do not threaten these.

“We believe that more time should have been allowed to enable all involved to carefully consider the potentially far-reaching implications of the resolution and to consult stakeholders appropriately… For [this reason], the UK is left with no option but to disassociate ourselves with this resolution.”

In a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, 66 NGOs working in sub-Saharan Africa called on the UK government to support the initiative.

“The UK government’s opposition to this resolution is in sharp contrast to its claim to act as a leader in global health. A true champion of global health would vocally support this initiative,” the letter said.

Gaelle Krikorian from MSF, said: “We need to know the mark-ups corporations charge, production costs, the cost of clinical trials, how much investment is really covered by companies, and how much is underwritten by taxpayers and non-profit groups.”

Director of StopAids, Mike Podmore, said: “It is outrageous that the UK government attempted to derail WHA negotiations on this important transparency resolution. It is doubly shameful that they have disassociated themselves even after they had already secured damaging amendments that significantly weakened the resolution.

“The UK government must no longer block measures for greater transparency of the drug industry that will help ensure lower drug prices and make sure everyone can access the medicines they need.”

Louis Goss

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