Photo credit: Les Ong.

Promoting competition within the pharmaceutical market has proven to be an effective strategy in reducing the price and increasing the availability of essential medicines. The introduction of generic medicines led to significant reductions in the price of HIV treatment, which has contributed to the remarkable increase in HIV treatment coverage. In 2000, HIV treatment was priced at US$ 10,000 per patient per year, but competition from generic introduction has reduced prices dramatically. Most recently, UNDP has been able to procure HIV treatments for below US$100 per patient per year.

At the recent ADP workshop on “Strengthening the Use of Competition Law to Promote Access to Health Technologies”, held on 29-31 October 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa, the role of competition law to lowering ARV prices in South Africa was highlighted. Experts noted that this example illustrates competition law as a critical policy tool that can improve innovation, reduce price, increase access and protect consumer welfare.

Despite its potential in addressing barriers related to high prices, competition law has largely been under-utilized. Experts have urged for the use of competition law to achieve affordable access to health technologies, including the recommendation by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law for “Countries [to] proactively use other areas of law and policy, such as competition law, price control policy and procurement law which can help increase access to pharmaceutical products.”

To address this capacity gap, the ADP organized the workshop, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, to illustrate the role of competition law and policy in addressing excessive pricing and promoting access to health technologies, particularly through the lens of consumer protection. Participants comprised government representatives from Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa and Thailand. The workshop sought to promote South-South exchange between participating countries, and inter-sectoral cooperation between a range of national actors, including competition authorities; health, trade and industrial property agencies.

Based on the UNDP publication “Using Competition Law to Promote Access to Health Technologies: A guidebook for low- and middle-income countries”, the workshop introduced participants to competition law doctrines and cases of anti-competitive practices in the health technologies sector.

Participants discussed strategies and instruments for effective monitoring, investigation and prosecution of anti-competitive behavior. They also shared country experiences of multisectoral collaboration to advance competition frameworks, and identified opportunities for greater cooperation between actors across multiple sectors within their own national contexts. As noted by a participant from Brazil, there was a need to strengthen the involvement of national competition authorities in health technology price negotiations; while the Indonesian participants, learning from the experience of Thailand, noted the importance of a multi-stakeholder mechanism for the appropriate selection of health technologies.

These notions of “policy coherence” can promote an integrated approach towards decision-making on matters impacting public health, which will be key in achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thus, the ADP is committed to supporting LMICs in exploring the policy space and strengthening capacity and coherence around the legislative, policy and regulatory options for using competition law. This can be achieved through the provision of technical support and training to national stakeholders from multiple sectors; and the facilitation of South-South cooperation.

Cover photo: 

  • Opening of ADP workshop: Precious Matsoso, Director-General of the South African Department of Health

  • Panel discussion (left to right): R. Bhama, Competition Commission of India; Joseph Lamasan, Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines; Sean Flynn, American University Washington College of Law; Tenu Avafia, UNDP; Joao De Resende, Brazil Council for Economic Defense; Farida Isvanda, Indonesian Directorate-General of Intellectual Property

Belynda Amankwa is Programme Specialist at the UNDP Country Office in Ghana.