Background: Accessibility to essential cancer medications in low- and middle-income countries is threatened by insufficient availability and affordability. The objective of this study is to characterize variation in transactional prices for essential cancer medications across geographies, medication type, and time.
Methods: Drug purchase prices for 19 national and international buyers (representing 29 total countries) between 2010 and 2014 were obtained from Management Sciences for Health. Median values for drug pricing were computed, to address outliers in the data. For comparing purchase prices across geographic units, medications, and over time; Mann-Whitney U tests were used to compare two groups, Kruskal Wallis H tests were used to compare more than two groups, and linear regression was used to compare across continuous independent variables.
Results: During the five-year data period examined, the median price paid for a package of essential cancer medication was $12.63. No significant differences in prices were found based on country-level wealth, country-level disease burden, drug formulation, or year when medication was purchased. Statistical tests found significant differences in prices paid across countries, regions, individual medications, and medication categories. Specifically, countries in the Africa region appeared to pay more for a package of essential cancer medication than countries in the Latin America region, and cancer medications tended to be more expensive than anti-infective medications and cardiovascular medications.
Conclusions: Though preliminary, our study found evidence of variation in prices paid by health systems to acquire essential cancer medications. Primarily, variations in pricing based on geographic location and cancer medication type (including when comparing to essential medicines that treat cardiovascular and infectious diseases) indicate that these factors may impact availability, affordability and access to essential cancer drugs. These factors should be taken into consideration when countries assess formulary decisions, negotiate drug procurement terms, and when formulating health and cancer policy.
Keywords: Economics; Global health; Health policy; Health services accessibility; Medicine; Neoplasms; Pharmacoeconomics; Policy; Public health.