Research article |

Access to medicines in resource-limited settings: the end of a golden decade?

Authors: Tido von Schoen-Angerer; Nathan Ford; James Arkinstall

Strong international mobilization and political will drove a golden decade for global health. Key initiatives over the last decade include setting of health-related Millennium Development Goals; the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health; the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health affirming countries’ rights to protect public health when implementing patent rules; and the creation of product development partnerships to address neglected areas of research and development.

Significant progress was made in reducing the incidence of and morbidity and mortality from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis (TB), and malaria, with a major impact made through increased access to medicines. Antiretroviral treatment for HIV was expanded to 6.6 million people, and medication prices were reduced significantly through generic competition. However, donor support has started to decline at a time when many patients still wait for treatment and the prices of needed newer medicines are on the increase due to patent protection. TB incidence has started to decrease, but progress in diagnosis and treatment of multidrug- resistant TB has been slow due to complexity of treatment and high drug costs. Promising new TB drugs in development need to be introduced rapidly and appropriately while treatment is being expanded. The introduction of more affordable artemisinin combination therapies for malaria contributed to significantly reducing malaria incidence and mortality, but challenges remain in ensuring that the latest recommendations for treating severe malaria are implemented.

Looking to the next decade, there is a worrisome mismatch between additional health priorities accompanied by shifting burdens of disease that need to be addressed and dwindling political attention and financial support. Difficulties in producing and guaranteeing access to affordable medicines are expected from a changing pharmaceutical market where an appropriate balance between trade and health has not been found. Systematic changes through a global framework for research and development and access are needed to support increased innovation and access to the health tools of the next decade.