Monthly cost of providing key drugs could be $1-2 per person, experts say

Lack of access to affordable, quality medicines threatens progress towards universal health coverage, one of the targets under the new global development goals adopted by world leaders at a U.N. summit last year, researchers say.

The essential medicines list contains 201 core drugs needed for basic healthcare

Essential medicines include analgesics such as morphine, tuberculosis, HIV or malaria drugs, medicines for chronic diseases such as insulin or cancer medicines as well as vaccines and contraceptives. (Joe Raedle/Getty)
Essential medicines could be provided for as little as $1-$2 US a month per person in developing countries, experts said on Monday as they called on governments to boost efforts to ensure everyone can access basic healthcare.

Although global spending on medicines is about eight times this amount, one in five countries spends less than $1 per month per person, according to the first analysis of the cost of providing key drugs by The Lancet Commission on Essential Medicines.

The commission, comprising 21 international experts, said lack of access to affordable, quality medicines was threatening progress towards universal health coverage, one of the targets under the new global development goals adopted by world leaders at a U.N. summit last year.

The list of essential medicines contains 201 drugs needed for a basic healthcare system and includes HIV, malaria and cancer drugs, vaccines and contraceptives. The list is updated by the World Health Organization every two years.

"The affordability of essential medicines is a core challenge and is a challenge to … our ability to deliver universal health coverage," commission co-chair and pharmacist Andy Gray told a telephone media briefing.

Gray, a senior lecturer at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal, called for additional financing to meet basic healthcare needs and said low-income countries that struggle to meet them should receive support from the international community.

Based on disease prevalence, consumption of medicines and the price of drugs, the commission estimated the cost of providing essential medicines to the populations of low- and middle-income countries to be between $77 billion and $152 billion a year.

It said 41 countries were spending less than $1 per person per month on medicines while global spending on medicines in 2017 was predicted to be $1.2 trillion.

The experts said "massive inequities and inefficiencies" in financing and governance were restricting access to drugs for many people.

They said persistent problems with the quality and safety of medicines in many low- and middle-income countries must also be addressed with better regulation.

For example, over 120,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to have died in 2013 because of substandard anti-malarial medicines, the commission said.

The experts also called for urgent reforms in the way essential drugs are developed and patented to improve affordability and access.