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UK fails to back global medicine pricing agreement

The UK, Germany and Hungary backed out of the global agreement

A shadow minister has said he is “appalled” at the UK Government’s decision not to back a global resolution aimed at making medicine pricing more transparent in order to reduce costs and improve access.

The resolution, which urges nations to publicly share information on the prices paid to pharmaceutical companies, was passed at the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly on Tuesday May 28.

The final agreement has been described as a ‘watered down’ version of the original after the US, Japan and Switzerland opposed making R&D costs transparent.

The UK, Germany and Hungary disassociated themselves from the resolution altogether, as they said not enough time had been taken to assess the implications.

‘Price data improves medicines access’

The resolution notes that WHO member nations are “seriously concerned” about high prices for medicines, vaccines and other health products as well as “inequitable access within and among member states”.

It says policies that tackle high prices and improve access “can be better formulated and evaluated” with more transparent data across the supply chain, and urges member states to work together to “improve the reporting of information by suppliers” such as sales revenues, prices and units sold, as well as clinical trial results.

It also calls on the WHO to assess the impact transparency has on the cost and availability of medicines.

Last week, 66 NGOs based in sub-Saharan Africa wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock urging him to support the resolution.

Shadow minister for international development Alex Norris said: “I am appalled that the UK Government failed to support measures that would lower the price of medicines at this week’s World Health Assembly.

“The power imbalance between the pharmaceutical industry and Governments, particularly those in the global south, must be shifted so we can ensure people across the world can get the medicines they need at prices we can all afford.”

UK “left with no option”

Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN and WTO in Geneva, said improving access to medicines is “complex and multi-dimensional”.

Mr Braithwaite commented: “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 taken to enable all involved to carefully consider the potentially far-reaching implications of the resolution and to consult stakeholders appropriately.”

He said the UK had been “left with no option but to disassociate ourselves” from the resolution.

The UK’s decision to walk away from the agreement has been described as unusual. Elaine Ruth Fletcher of Health Policy Watch said “WHA resolutions are normally approved by consensus” and that it is “rare that delegates resort to disassociation”.

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