WASHINGTON, June 19, 2017 — Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), is deeply concerned about the pending Executive Order that will raise drug prices in the US and abroad.
Famous American raconteur, Mark Twain once opined that, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.” During his campaign Donald Trump promised to lower drug prices by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical corporations and Americans to import safe and effective drugs from abroad. Today, his pending executive order would both raise drug prices further in the United States and punish the most vulnerable people in the world.
First, it is taxpayer funded research by universities, not by pharmaceutical corporations, that results in the development of the most innovative treatments in the world. In 2001, a student-driven campaign at Yale university, which started to lower the price of a publicly funded HIV/AIDS medicine developed on campus but priced too high for Doctors without Borders (MSF) to be able to treat people living with HIV in South Africa, was successful and eventually developed into the global student-driven non profit organization Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), which now has chapters in 18 countries worldwide.
Today, UAEM’s motto continues to be “Our drugs, Our labs, Our responsibility”. While today public funding accounts for three in four of all new drugs approved by the FDA, American taxpayers are still paying too much for drugs, and pharmaceutical corporations are taking the government for a ride — at the expense of people’s livelihoods and lives.
Second, the President cannot hide the fact that the AHCA takes away prescription drug coverage from 24 million Americans by hiding behind an executive order that increases drug prices abroad and leaves prices at home untouched. Today, high drug prices are a global epidemic and access to affordable medications has become an international crisis. The truth is that 10 million people die every year from lack of access to affordable medicine; this number will continue to rise if urgent, sustainable action is not taken.
Merith Basey, Executive Director for UAEM in North America shared, “What use are new medical innovations, if the people who need them can’t afford them? It should be criminal! Life-saving drugs should not be treated like luxury items, especially when the public funded the research in the first place.”
UAEM and the access to medicines movement has seen this story before. At the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, pharmaceutical corporations sued Nelson Mandela for having the audacity to try to provide affordable generic drugs to his citizens. The US government, at the urging of industry, threatened trade sanctions on the South African government. Today, pharmaceutical corporations continue to dodge their responsibilities by shifting blame to poorer countries. By raising prices, this pharmaceutical corporation-driven Executive Order only doubles down on a massive, systemic problem.
Third, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats support government intervention to lower and even prevent high drug prices from being set by pharmaceutical corporations. In the executive branch, UAEM’s Take Back Our Meds campaign urges executive action to make taxpayer funded research and its results available and affordable to the public. UAEM is urging Dr. Francis Collins, Director of National Institutes of Health (NIH), to show real leadership by strengthening the conditions the NIH attaches to university grants to ensure that medical innovations are accessible and affordable for all Americans.
Dr. Collins could take action now by making life-saving drugs like the prostate cancer treatment Xtandi, developed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with public funding, available at the Canadian price-tag of $29,000. Instead Americans pay twice, both as taxpayers and as recipients of the drug, to the tune of $130,000.
It is past time that the NIH listen to its future doctors, scientists, public health specialists and lawyers. UAEM is calling on the agency to “Take Back our Meds!” and to lead in the fight for access to affordable medicines. History tells us that the inaction of the US Government during the AIDS epidemic led to countless deaths at home and abroad. Even today only 40% of people living with HIV in the US have access to medication they need. Will history have to echo the 1980s before the government meaningfully acts? People in the US and worldwide are dying to know.
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About UAEM: Universities Allied for Essential Medicines is a global grassroots movement of university students and academics organizing for public control over medicine and its pricing to ensure that publicly funded medical research meets the needs of people everywhere. UAEM seeks to: 1) Promote access to medicines for people in developing countries by changing norms and practices around university patenting and licensing; 2) Ensure that university medical research meets the needs of the majority of the world’s population; 3) Empower students to respond to the access and innovation crises. Find out more at http://www.uaem.org/