Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, has made headlines in recent weeks after purchasing the rights to out of patent drug Daraprim and subsequently increasing its price from the more affordable $13,50 to a catastrophic $750 per tablet. It is classified by the World Health Organisation as an essential medicine, thus its availability is of the utmost importance in any basic health system, and its availability in the United States has been seriously compromised by this price hike. Despite promising to lower it to a more affordable price after considerable international outrage, the actions of Shkreli play into a larger discourse involving pharmaceutical companies in general and the pricing of drugs considered essential within developed society.
The media attention surrounding Shkreli does not mean in any way that this kind of behaviour is a rare occurrence. Both branded and generic drug prices have been subject in recent years to increasing prices, equally exorbitant to that of Daraprim. When in 2010 Amedra Pharmaceuticals acquired the rights to abendazole, a drug used to treat parasitic worm infections, it proceeded to increase it from $6 per day to $120. Despite Shkreli’s defense and the argument of large corporations that the higher prices allow for greater investment and research allowing companies to improve the efficacy of the drugs they are selling, such ludicrously high prices create a societal divide over access to these medications. It is also not much use in investing to optimise a drug that the majority of those who require it cannot afford it.
This is particularly true for Daraprim. Daraprim is most commonly used as an anti-malarial drug and when combined with other medicines, in the treatment and management of HIV. It is a drug that helps treat a disease that disproportionately affects lower socio economic groups. The World Health Organisation has recently stated that those diagnosed with HIV should immediately receive antiviral treatment, but with drug prices forcing up insurance costs and delaying access for up to six months, this is an incredibly difficult guarantee.
Medical treatment should be regarded as a right rather than a privilege in modern society. Lifesaving drugs, irrespective of whether they have been recently invented or developed or whether they are out of patent, should be accessible to all those who require them. A society which does not provide this values the lives of their citizens based on their economic status. A fundamental issue with private healthcare and pharmaceutical companies is that they do not exist to cure and treat patients but to make a profit. Thirty two million Americans currently do not take medications prescribed to them because they simply cannot afford then. This undoubtedly has a significant effect on their quality of life and potentially their long term management of conditions and survival.
Leaving behind the most vulnerable in society is backwards and inhibits the development of a society as a whole. It should not be permissible that pharmaceutical companies are able to raise prices to the extent to which drugs unaffordable on insurance policies. The government and not Wall Street should have control over access to life saving drugs, otherwise there is a dangerous possibility of millions more people being denied medical treatment as financial speculation and the drive for enormous profits threatens the affordability of some of the most important medications.
Image: Brandon Giesbrech