Wealthy countries should pay more for lifesaving drugs: Mahidol Awardee

national January 30, 2013 00:00


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Rich countries should pay more for new drugs and poor countries less - to enable pharmaceutical firms to help people in developing countries get easier access to life-saving drugs, according to one recipient of this year's Prince Mahidol Award.

“In principle, it is not easy to do but I believe that we need to do that – the richest countries should pay more for new drugs,” Sir Michael Rawlins, founding chairman of Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), said yesterday.

He spoke at a press conference organised by the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital.

Rawlins, the recipient of the award in the field of medicine, will received the prestigious honour along with Dr Uche Veronica Amazigo, former director of the World Health Organisation’s African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control, from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. The Princess was designated by His Majesty the King to preside over the ceremony for the Prince Mahidol Award 2012 at the Chakri Throne Hall today. Each awardee will receive a medal, a certificate and close to Bt3 million (US$100,000).

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Rawlins is seen as a pioneer in use of scientific and clinical-based evidence to evaluate the efficiency and worthiness of drugs, medical procedures and instruments before they are implemented.

His contribution helped patients achieve the highest attainable standard of healthcare and cost efficiency throughout the United Kingdom. Moreover, key elements of NICE have had a significant impact on healthcare policy and been adopted by various countries including Thailand.

For Rawlins, a balance has to be sought between a patient’s ability to access life-saving drugs and drug makers’ profits. He said even though “Big Pharma” needs to make money when introducing a new drug into the market, they must also think about moral principles and take responsibility to help people access essential medicine.

He gave an example of a UK drug-maker that distributed a large amount of medicine to treat Onchocerciasis in Africa free of charge to save millions of lives. But to do that, drug companies must make significant profit before they will contribute to society.

In the UK, he said there was no mechanism to directly control the price of drugs but health agencies such as NICE would negotiate with drug-makers to cut the cost of medicine to a satisfactory level.

However, negotiations over drug prices alone would not help people, especially those living in remote areas, get access to medicines.

Amazigo said the participation of communities to design a drug distribution system would be key in helping to save people from severe illnesses like Onchocerciasis, or “river blindness”.

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