The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Teaching Experience: Inequalities in the Access to Medication to Fight against Covid-19

Cristina Vilaplana-Prieto, University of Murcia (Spain)


As the Sars-CoV2 pandemic continues to grow, researchers around the world are urgently seeking new treatments to prevent infection, cure those infected, or lessen the severity of the disease. Although there are several recently approved vaccines, clinical trials are underway to "re-use" drugs normally indicated for other diseases. The shorter development time and reduced costs of using existing compounds are particularly advantageous compared to the discovery of new drugs in a pandemic situation, where time is of the essence. Low- and middle-income countries will need access to these treatments at minimum prices to ensure that all who need them can be treated.  Even in high-income countries, the disease burden could be so great that access to medicines at minimal cost may also be necessary. This teaching experience studies the market for 8 pharmaceutical products used to fight the pandemic (remdesivir, favipiravir, lopinavir/ritonavir, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, sofosbuvir, pyrfenidone and tocilizumab) in 13 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States). Through the analysis of prices and costs, we reflect on the difficulty of access to treatment according to the country. This educational project is designed for students in Economics, Business Administration, Political Science and Sociology. The objective is to deepen knowledge of the pharmaceutical market: (i) to demonstrate in a tangible way the differences between production costs and final prices of medicines, (ii) to perceive the difficulty of access to certain treatments depending on the country, (iii) to reflect on what initiatives should be implemented in an international emergency context such as the one we are experiencing. This will be done by consulting statistical bases and reading support documents on the structure of the pharmaceutical market. It is best to carry out this practice in small groups and then share it in order to favour "withing groups" and "between groups" interactions.

Some of the questions addressed throughout this experience are the following ones:

  1. What special characteristics differentiate medicines from other goods?
  2. What type of market do you consider to be the pharmaceutical market?
  3. Does it share characteristics with a market of perfect competition? Given your answer to this question, do you consider that there may be a market failure in the pharmaceutical market?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of pharmaceutical patents? Should we demand an open 'technology transfer' so that the methods to manufacture key medicines can be shared?
  5. Do you consider that the knowledge on which new pharmaceutical products are based is a public good?
  6. What are the mark-ups obtained by pharmaceutical companies for each drug and country? How do we explain the variation across countries in the mark-up for the same drug?

Keywords: drugs, COVID-19, access, patents.

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