The price of medicines can increase as much as 300 per cent from port to patient through taxes, tariffs, wholesaler, supplier and retailer charges and transport and other costs, as well as though corruption and fraud. This is mostly due to inefficient systems that can be improved.

As a result, millions of people cannot afford to buy the medicines they need. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) for the treatment of AIDS and artemisinin-based anti-malaria medicines are particularly expensive, but other crucial drugs are also beyond the reach of the poor.

This is not just a consequence of the prices set by manufacturers or pharmacies. The supply systems by which medicines are taken from manufacturer to suppliers are often unreliable. The reasons vary and include poor transport links, siphoning off medicines from government health services to private clinics (and in one notorious case from African clinics back to the European market), and inefficiency by officials responsible for purchasing. Research shows that some procurement systems pay up to twice the global market price for essential medicines.

The way in which some health services are financed is unfair, leaving households responsible for the cost of medicines, with the sickest and poorest people least able to pay.

By getting civil society, business and government to disclose, debate and use information on these and other practices, the pharmaceutical market and public purchasers can be made more efficient. MeTA’s goal in the Philippines, for example, is to halve the prices of essential medicines. Ultimately, that means better health for more people.

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Medicine tablets