Background: To evaluate medicine prices, availability and affordability in Brazil, considering the differences across three types of medicines (originator brands, generics and similar medicines) and different types of facilities (private pharmacies, public sector pharmacies and "popular pharmacies").
Methods: Data on prices and availability of 50 medicines were collected in 56 pharmacies across six cities in Southern Brazil using the World Health Organization / Health Action International methodology. Median prices obtained were divided by international reference prices to derive the median price ratio (MPR).
Results: In the private sector, prices were 8.6 MPR for similar medicines, 11.3 MRP for generics and 18.7 MRP for originator brands, respectively. Mean availability was 65%, 74% and 48% for originator brands, generics and similar medicines, respectively. In the public sector, mean availability of similar medicines was 2-7 times higher than that of generics. Mean overall availability in the public sector ranged from 68.8% to 81.7%. In "popular pharmacies", mean availability was greater than 90% in all cities.
Conclusions: Availability of medicines in the public sector does not meet the challenge of supplying essential medicines to the entire population, as stated in the Brazilian constitution. This has unavoidable repercussions for affordability, particularly amongst the lower socio-economic strata.