Do national drug policies influence antiretroviral drug prices? Evidence from the Southern African Development community

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Background: The efficacy of low- and middle-income countries’ (LMIC) national drug policies in managing antiretroviral (ARV) pharmaceutical prices is not well understood. Though ARV drug prices have been declining in LMIC over the past decade, little research has been done on the role of their national drug policies. This study aims to (i) analyse global ARV prices from 2004 to 2013 and (ii) examine the relationship of national drug policies to ARV prices.

Methods: Analysis of ARV drug prices utilized data from the Global Price Reporting Mechanism from the World Health Organization (WHO). Ten of the most common ARV drugs (first-line and second-line) were selected. National drug policies were also assessed for 12 countries in the South African Development Community (SADC), which self-reported their policies through WHO surveys.

Results: The best predictor of ARV drug price was generic status—the generic versions of 8 out of 10 ARV drugs were priced lower than branded versions. However, other factors such as transaction volume, HIV prevalence, national drug policies and PEPFAR/CHAI involvement were either not associated with ARV drug price or were not consistent predictors of price across different ARV drugs.

Conclusion: In the context of emerging international trade agreements, which aim to strengthen patent protections internationally and potentially delay the sale of generic drugs in LMIC, this study shines a spotlight on the importance of generic drugs in controlling ARV prices. Further research is needed to understand the impact of national drug policies on ARV prices.

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