Governments must act to cut drug prices, says Kenya’s health minister

Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base

Market competition will not lead to lower drug prices, Sam Ongeri, the Kenyan minister of public health, said in a dramatic intervention from the floor during a debate on strategies for lowering drug prices. Only government intervention could lead to cheaper treatments, he argued.

To loud applause he outlined how he had cut the cost of treatment from about $1,500 a year to just $300.

“In Kenya, we introduced compulsory licences and parallel imports and now we have cut three drug antiretroviral therapy treatments to $300.”

He said he “pushed laws through parliament” to allow parallel imports and compulsory licences. ‘Parallel imports’ are drugs imported from markets where they are cheaper because of local deals with the manufacturers or local production of generic versions. ‘Compulsory licences’ are issued by national authorities to allow local production of generics regardless of the views of the licence holder.

Ongeri said: “We will never get lower drug prices if we leave it to competition between the drug companies. We need government intervention.”

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