Muna Al Fuzai

I understand the desire of pharmaceutical companies to make profits, because they are not charitable institutions but medical and commercial organizations, so the achievement of profit is an important goal to continue working. But the issue of difference in prices of medicines is making everyone frustrated. Why are prices of drugs becoming expensive and not accessible to all people?

The prices of medicines are supposed to be similar in all Gulf states, as prices are unified in all GCC countries with a slight difference in profit margin. But in Kuwait, I feel the prices are too high. It is true that the state provides free medicines to citizens and expatriates, but some prefer to go to pharmacies for medical treatment or to buy medicine and some therapeutic and cosmetic products.

Internationally, drugs companies are facing increasing criticism, because new medicines for serious diseases such as cancer and hepatitis C have entered the market at high prices, making them out of the reach of many patients. The suffering over drug prices is no longer a private, local matter. Because even if medicines are manufactured in the same country, this does not mean they will be cheap, especially for those who suffer from chronic diseases.

This issue has turned into a global problem that needs solutions. Suzanne Hill, head of essential medicines at the World Health Organization (WHO), confirmed that “the problem has become global”, adding that “many of these (drugs) are now on the WHO model list of essential medicines, but their high price is limiting access”. Hill was speaking at a forum on fair pricing sponsored by the UN health agency and the Dutch government in Amsterdam. The meeting was a first step towards preparing concrete plans on drug pricing.

Among the obstacles to the development of a more equitable pricing system is the lack of transparency regarding the cost of development, how prices are determined, and the prices of the same drug in different countries. Mary Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director – general health systems and innovation, said there was agreement that industry needed reasonable returns on research and development, but governments should play a stronger role in setting prices and directing the drug research agenda.

I agree. Governments must be involved in such investments. A call for a comprehensive and fair solution to the price of medicines is needed. Clearly, WHO wants transparency for fairer medicine pricing, but unless this call turns into a compulsory program for all countries, nothing will change. We could lose more lives. The world needs transparency in the pricing of medicines in order to increase access to lifesaving drugs.

By Muna Al-Fuzai
muna@kuwaittimes.net