Medicine prices, availability, and affordability in 36 developing and middle-income countries: a secondary analysis

Lancet. 2009 Jan 17;373(9659):240-9. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61762-6. Epub 2008 Nov 29.


Background: WHO and Health Action International (HAI) have developed a standardised method for surveying medicine prices, availability, affordability, and price components in low-income and middle-income countries. Here, we present a secondary analysis of medicine availability in 45 national and subnational surveys done using the WHO/HAI methodology.

Methods: Data from 45 WHO/HAI surveys in 36 countries were adjusted for inflation or deflation and purchasing power parity. International reference prices from open international procurements for generic products were used as comparators. Results are presented for 15 medicines included in at least 80% of surveys and four individual medicines.

Findings: Average public sector availability of generic medicines ranged from 29.4% to 54.4% across WHO regions. Median government procurement prices for 15 generic medicines were 1.11 times corresponding international reference prices, although purchasing efficiency ranged from 0.09 to 5.37 times international reference prices. Low procurement prices did not always translate into low patient prices. Private sector patients paid 9-25 times international reference prices for lowest-priced generic products and over 20 times international reference prices for originator products across WHO regions. Treatments for acute and chronic illness were largely unaffordable in many countries. In the private sector, wholesale mark-ups ranged from 2% to 380%, whereas retail mark-ups ranged from 10% to 552%. In countries where value added tax was applied to medicines, the amount charged varied from 4% to 15%.

Interpretation: Overall, public and private sector prices for originator and generic medicines were substantially higher than would be expected if purchasing and distribution were efficient and mark-ups were reasonable. Policy options such as promoting generic medicines and alternative financing mechanisms are needed to increase availability, reduce prices, and improve affordability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antacids / administration & dosage
  • Antacids / economics
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / economics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / economics
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries*
  • Drugs, Essential / classification
  • Drugs, Essential / economics*
  • Drugs, Essential / supply & distribution
  • Drugs, Generic / classification
  • Drugs, Generic / economics*
  • Drugs, Generic / supply & distribution
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics*
  • Humans
  • Private Sector / economics
  • Public Sector / economics
  • Reference Standards


  • Antacids
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Drugs, Essential
  • Drugs, Generic