Creating an equitable commodities market for life-saving medicines
CEO, Save the Children International
Healthcare access and treatment, public-private partnerships, and innovation are among the many issues being addressed at the World Economic Forum this week. To aid the discussion ahead, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship partnered with the Executive Office of UNICEF and designed a debate at the strategic intersection of these issues. Core to the framing of this debate is an interview with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, which is included in the discussion.
Debate Media Partner: Forbes.com.
Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy & Corporate Responsibility, Merck
Partnership Leader, Advocacy & Justice for Children, World Vision International
U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Malaria, United Nations
CEO, Save the Children International
Towards universal access to life-saving medicines
While great strides have been made in reducing child mortality, millions of children still die before their fifth birthday from preventable and treatable causes. Most of these are in low- income countries, and from the poorest families, most remote areas and marginalised groups. The fact that a child’s chance of survival depends on where they happen to be born or their family’s wealth is a violation of every child’s right to health.
Developing a commodities market in the developing world is an important step towards improving access to life-saving medicines and health supplies for these children who need them. For example, antenatal corticosteroids could save around 400,000 lives a year if available and used. However we must also look at the deep inequalities that undermine access if we want the poorest and most vulnerable have access to these essential commodities.
One key area for discussion is how to avoid reliance on individual out-of-pocket payments for life-saving commodities. We know that these can exclude the poor, or where families decide to pay in the case of a health emergency, can lead to people forgoing other essential items and push people into deeper economic hardship. This must be taken into account if we are to guarantee equitable and effective access and usage of essential commodities and supplies.
Securing access for every child
Life-saving commodities cannot be delivered in isolation. If they are to be used properly, most need to be administered by health workers employed and managed in functioning health service.
Many countries face acute shortages of health workers, particularly in rural and remote areas. We must strive to ensure that a health worker is in reach of every child – and that they are adequately remunerated, trained and motivated – if a commodities market is to have a real impact on children’s lives.
We must also ensure that communities are aware of these life-saving commodities, know what’s due to them as health service users, and are empowered to actively demand the medicines and services to which they are entitled, and so hold their governments and service providers accountable.
Overcoming price barriers for countries
A commodities market for developing countries must tackle price barriers. To achieve and sustain universal access to health care, governments must be able to purchase sufficient and regular supplies of commodities at affordable prices.
A suitable range of suppliers is needed in order to ensure competition and drive down prices. Enhancing capacity for production and supply of products in emerging economies is one way to do this. Development partners and industry have an important role to play in fostering conducive conditions for research and development, production and distribution in developing countries, including through technology transfers and capacity building. While this is an agenda that will in some cases take several years and require significant investment, it is a vital step towards broader and more sustainable access to life-saving commodities.
Where intellectual property rights are making commodities unaffordable for the poorest countries, Save the Children also wants industry and other stakeholders to facilitate the development of generics. These are cheaper and more sustainable options for governments in low-income countries for the basic, off-patent medicines that are needed.
Implementing this agenda and creating a market in the poorest countries for life-saving commodities is vital if we are going to accelerate progress towards the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths.