April 11, 2006

Drug companies should lower drug prices enough to guarantee poor and underdeveloped countries access to the drugs they need, the World Health Organization (WHO) argues in a new report.

Both generic and brand pharmaceutical products should be priced "equitably, not just in sub-Saharan Africa and the least developed countries" but also in low- and lower-middle-income countries where there are a vast number of poor patients, says the report.

More than half of the people in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia do not have regular access to badly needed medicines, either because the drugs are too expensive or because governments do not have adequate systems in place to distribute the drugs, the report says. Pharmaceutical companies also are not developing drugs to treat many of the diseases that disproportionately affect poor countries, because of the low return on investment.

The report lists more than 50 recommendations to ensure that residents of developing countries can obtain both existing and new products to diagnose, treat and prevent the most prevalent diseases in their countries. One potential solution is to reward drug companies or pay them in advance to research and develop drugs to treat such diseases. Another is to guarantee companies the funding they need to bring products already in development to market, the report says.

A copy of the WHO report, "Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights," is online at http://www.who.int/intellectualproperty/documents/thereport/en/index.html (http://www.who.int/intellectualproperty/documents/thereport/en/index.html).