What is the Problem?
Why don’t we have the medicines people need at prices they can afford?
It is estimated that one third of the world lacks access to essential medicines.
Spiralling drug prices are creating unsustainable pressures on patients and health systems around the world, including the NHS in the UK. Many people are missing out on the medicines that they need because they are unaffordable and inaccessible.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable industries in the world. While big pharmaceutical companies profit from patenting medicines and charging high prices for them, more and more people are having to live without access to affordable drugs both here in the UK and around the world.
This is a huge injustice that is aggravated further by the fact that, globally, public funds are used to pay for the research and development of medicines. In the UK, it is estimated that the NHS spends over £1 billion a year on medicines that are financed with public money. These medicines are then sold to pharmaceutical companies with restrictive licensing agreements enabling industry monopoly over their cost and access.
With profit as the primary driver, the current health innovation system ratchets up prices but also leads to severe under-investment in less profitable medicines. This explains the lack of new treatments for diseases that affect low and middle income countries, and the crisis arising from the failure to develop new antibiotics. The majority of big pharmaceutical companies spend more money on marketing, lobbying and buying back their own shares than on research that could help improve and save lives.
We have seen the huge inequities produced by this system in the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics and continue to see the same scenario play out with diseases such as Monkeypox. Indeed, despite being two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, significant vaccine, treatment and diagnostic inequities persist – it is estimated that while 80% of people in the UK have received multiple doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, only 18% of people living on the African continent have received one dose.
We cannot allow this inequity to continue. Our current pharmaceutical system puts profit before people. As a coalition, we work to fight back against this – to ensure that all medicines are available for all, and affordable for all.