66 African NGOs urge UK govt to drop opposition to drug price transparency resolution

KUALA LUMPUR: Following resistance by several developed countries at the World Health Assembly (WHA) to a drug price transparency resolution, of which Malaysia is a co-sponsor, 66 organisations from Africa have sent an open letter to the United Kingdom government demanding that it stop opposing the resolution.

In the letter addressed to Matthew Hancock at the Health and Social Care Department and Rory Stewart from the International Development Department in London Friday (May 24), the 66 civil society organisations working in sub-Saharan Africa said they strongly supported the resolution currently being negotiated at the WHA in Geneva, Switzerland.

The draft resolution to discuss transparency of pricing is on agenda item 11.7 - Access to Medicines and Vaccines at the WHA.

It was initiated by Italy with Malaysia, Egypt, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain and Turkey as the initial co-sponsors.

"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. We support maximum transparency in the prices for medicines—transparency means our governments can negotiate fair prices rather than negotiating blindly," the letter, dated Friday, said.

The letter requested that the UK government stand in solidarity with people most at risk of suffering and death from lack of access to medicines, by abandoning its opposition to the resolution.

It said the issue of excessive medicine pricing is a global crisis affecting all diseases, all health technologies, and all countries.

"Astronomical medicine prices cause avoidable suffering and death, and push health systems to their limits and millions of people into poverty," it said.

NGOs claimed countries with strong pharmaceutical industry lobbies were trying to derail the resolution.

The day before, Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), sent an urgent open letter urging the German government to stop blocking measures that can promote affordable access to medicines for people worldwide.

On the same day, 48 civil society organisations and 10 individuals also signed an open letter to delegates, urging them to do the right thing and support the #TransparencyResolution.

In a tweet Friday, MSF Access Campaign (@MSF_Access) asked why the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United States were standing in the way of the #TransparencyResolution.

It also said that the countries thought it was possible to negotiate fair prices for drugs without information about how much it cost for medicine to be made, how much clinical trials cost, or who paid to develop them.

"One of the key arguments used by pharma to justify high prices is the cost of clinical trials.

"How can you justify keeping these costs secret when this leads to high price abuses that impede patient access?" it said Thursday (May 23).

Meanwhile, Knowledge Ecology International director James Love tweeted that the resolution received six new co-sponsors Thursday - Sri Lanka, India, Luxembourg, Andorra, Kenya and Russia.

On Thursday, NGOs said negotiation went informal following strong resistance.

The resolution is expected to be discussed in a formal setting again on Monday (May 27).

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NGOs claim move to block resolution on drug price transparency at WHA