A New Access to Medicines Initiative: Medicines Law & Policy

By Jacquelyn Veraldi, University of Groningen, j.d.veraldi@rug.nl

This week during the WHO’s 70th World Health Assembly, GHLG member Ellen ‘t Hoen announced the launch of the new website, ‘Medicines Law & Policy’, established with colleagues Pascale Boulet and Kaitlin Mara, all experts in intellectual property and access to medicines.  ML&P provides expertise in the form of policy and legal analyses, best practice models, and other information to work toward the goal of ensuring the availability of effective, safe, and affordable medicines for all.

At this time, low-, middle- and high-income countries (LMICs and HICs) alike are struggling to afford and hence provide medicines. Even in HICs, medicines are becoming increasingly unaffordable, where 1000-fold markup prices can be found on HIV, HCV and cancer drugs.  On the other hand, individuals from LMICs struggle to find such drugs in the first place: pharmaceutical spending in these regions only accounts for 21.5% of the global expenditure, despite accounting for 84% of the world’s populations.  Present estimates show that about 30% of the global population do not have access to the essential medicines they require.

It is thus clear that ML&P is filling a much-needed gap in global health by connecting practitioners working on universal access to medicines (such as governments, NGOs, funding or UN agencies) with knowledgeable experts. ML&P possesses information on the current status and major causes of excessive drug costs, helping answer the complex preliminary question faced by those seeking to tackle medicines pricing:  ‘Why are medicines so expensive?’ and seeks to provide answers to the follow-up question: ‘How can we lower these costs?’

The ML&P website has numerous resources available, including tools which can be used by those looking to overcome patent barriers and increase access to medicines.  These tools include flexibilities found in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, for instance, compulsory licenses and patent enforcement waivers for least developed countries.  It facilitates the use of these tools by providing model framework documents that can be used by governments in their issuance of such licenses or waivers.  A blog touching on numerous developments in the field can also be found on the website, which, in their most recent post, tackled a myth perpetuated by the pharmaceutical industry on compulsory licensing.

For more information on ML&P and its founders, visit their ‘About Us’ section.

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