Access to affordable medicines is no longer a challenge for low and middle income countries alone, but increasingly an issue of serious concern in high-income countries as well. Expensive drugs not only put citizens’ access to health at risk, but also threaten the sustainability of national health budgets.
According to a recent survey, Spanish households now pay 58% more for their medicines than in 2010. 39% of Portuguese consumers could not afford a medicine they needed in 2014. These are striking figures that highlight an alarming problem for Europeans across the continent.
The high price tags for treatments to fight cancer, or HIV/AIDS, or for drugs targeting rare diseases (orphan drugs) are the main barrier between a patient and their treatment in Europe today. Let us look at Sofosbuvir the new medicine against Hepatitis C. It is actually an example of a drug that could potentially save millions of lives but comes with a price that hardly any health care system in the world can afford. The price of a 12-week course of Sofosbuvir, marketed by the American pharmaceutical company Gilead, can be up to $84.000 (that is $1.000 per pill) in the USA. The respective prices in Europe range from € 45.000 in Italy, to € 41.000 in France and € 25.000 in Spain. Due to these exorbitant prices, European governments are forced to put strict eligibility criteria in place in order to limit the number of patients entitled to access the drug. This means practically that patients will only be able to access the treatment when their condition deteriorates.