U.K. Backs Program That Aims To Improve Drug Access, Including to Antiretrovirals, in Developing Countries
United Kingdom International Development Secretary Hilary Benn on Wednesday announced that the country will support the Medicines Transparency Alliance -- an initiative that aims to improve access to quality medical care, including HIV/AIDS treatment, in developing countries -- the Financial Times reports. MeTA aims to improve access to quality medicine by providing information about HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis drugs to governments, not-for-profit organizations and pharmaceutical companies, the Times reports. The initiative also aims to increase efficiency, bolster drug procurement and fight corruption by making information about drug costs public. MeTA -- which is funded by a 25 million pounds , or about $50 million, five-year grant from the Department for International Development -- will draw on DFID's experience with its existing Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which aims to improve the quality of public procurement for medicines. In addition, MeTA hopes to increase awareness about drug procurement processes and other logistical issues, according to the Times. "We want better information on the price of drugs, their availability and quality," Benn said, adding, "We know that there are big mark-ups on drugs, drugs are not always available, distribution is not working and the quality is often not effective." The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors are considering lending support to MeTA. Pilot projects are scheduled to be launched this summer in nine countries -- including Ghana, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and the Philippines -- the Times reports. MeTA aims to draw on the experiences in the pilot countries and launch the initiative worldwide by the end of next year (Jack, Financial Times, 4/19).
In related news, U.K. International Development Minister Gareth Thomas on Thursday announced that the country supports the "right of developing countries to use the flexibilities" of international patent regulations, such as issuing compulsory licenses, when they face a "big public health issue," Reuters reports. According to Reuters, controversy over access to medicine in developing countries has "flared" since Thailand issued a compulsory license for Abbott Laboratories' antiretroviral Kaletra. Although Thomas did not comment specifically on the situation in Thailand, he said that he hopes there will be "more action in terms of lowering prices on second-line" antiretrovirals. According to Thomas, many antiretrovirals still are "simply unaffordable for countries with over-stretched health budgets." He added, "There is also a debate to be had about whether we can see more companies within the industry moving to the low-cost, high-volume way of doing things. We want to explore whether there are the right incentives for that" (Hirschler, Reuters, 4/19).