As the drug pricing debate continues in the US, the ministers of health of 10 Latin American countries recently persuaded pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices of several HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C treatments.
In the first of two planned rounds of negotiations, the health ministers of MERCOSUR (which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and associate countries Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador) earlier this week agreed to purchase the HIV/AIDS drug darunavir for $1.27 per tablet, which is significantly less than the $2.98 per tablet previously available.
The drug will be purchased through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Strategic Fund and save the countries $20 million collectively.
In addition, the ministers negotiated with Gilead over its hepatitis C treatment sofosbuvir and received an offer of the lowest current price in the region, which is paid by Brazil at $81.85 per tablet -- significantly lower than the US wholesale acquisition cost of $1,000 per tablet.
Both sofosbuvir and darunavir are on the WHO’s list of essential medicines.
"For countries, the outcome of this meeting is very positive, as it will facilitate access to the key essential medicines they need," said Analía Porrás, head of PAHO/WHO's Medicines and Health Technologies Unit, who participated in the meeting.
Pooled procurement initiatives, like the PAHO Strategic Fund, can be an effective mechanism for improving access to high-cost drugs in medium- and low-income countries, Carissa Etienne, Director of PAHO explained earlier this year.
The mechanism for negotiating down the prices of the medicines was conducted with the help of a technical committee of experts from the ministries of health, who meet periodically and provide technical input to assist MERCOSUR ministers in negotiating agreements, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
In a second round of negotiations, the MERCOSUR countries and associate states will negotiate the purchase of other high-cost medicines, including cancer drugs.
Back in September, Antonio Barrios, Paraguay's Minister of Health, also touted a new plan by the 12-member Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to negotiate jointly for better prices and to use PAHO's Strategic Fund for actual procurement.
PAHO Strategic Fund Medicines List and Reference Prices