This Thursday and Friday, the International Conference “The 3 As: Availability, Accessibility and Affordability of Medicines and Medical Devices” took place at the Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon. The conference was organized by INFARMED – Portuguese National Authority of Medicines and Health Products, under the auspices of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (PPEU). Objective: to promote discussion among the main European pharmaceutical policy actors, addressing national and European challenges in an integrated, ethical and sustainable manner.
In the opening session, the speakers emphasised the importance of international collaboration and cooperation, commending the effort to bring together the main agents in the area of medicines and health products.
Opening the conference, the Portuguese Health Minister, Marta Temido, argued for the strengthening of “co-operation at both the European and global levels” on the issue of access to medicines and medical devices. She classified this effort as a prerequisite for the ability to “guarantee our citizens a higher quality of life”.
Recognising that “there is still a long way to go”, the Minister presented the Portuguese Presidency’s goals for combating inequality of access to medicines, as “reinforcement of our strategic independence in medicine production and distribution and a guarantee of sustainability in our health systems”.
In his speech, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, stressed that a stronger Europe is “essential for social, economic and political stability” at a world level. After welcoming the European initiatives for reform, Tedros Ghebreyesus listed “three specific areas where action is necessary”: “closer collaboration” in order to “reduce distances” between countries and support more research and development; “consistent nomenclature” that is more accessible to “clients”, and, finally, a “transparent pricing” policy that can promote competitiveness and guarantee a secure supply chain.
The European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, centred her speech on the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe. After going through the measures already adopted, such as reform of the incentive system and the speeding-up of the authorisation process, Stella Kyriakides stated that the success of this initiative depended on collaboration and coordination between national and European bodies. She concluded by saying that the 3 As Conference was “part of this process”; it was “exactly what we need to achieve what we owe our citizens”.
Dolors Montserrat, who took part as an MEP on the Environment and Public Health Committee, praised the cooperation and collaboration efforts within the European Union, taking the vaccine programme as an example. She reminded the audience that this week 29 million units would be distributed – a new “record”. Delors Montserrat also recalled the European Parliament’s initiatives on the European Union Health Package, underscoring the approval in recent days of the Civil Protection Mechanism.
Closing the morning’s business, the President of INFARMED, Rui Santos Ivo, thanked the participants for taking part, and declared his expectation that the event would allow “concrete measures to be identified”, ones that could be translated into proposals by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
On this first day of the 3 As Conference, over 1000 people attended the different sessions, most notably the main panels – on the topics of the Availability of Medicines and Medical Devices and Innovation and the Accessibility of Medicines and Medical Devices to patients. It was also possible to attend various parallel sessions.
Today, Friday, the Affordability of Medicines and Health Products was the foremost topic, with the regulators, industry, patients and health professionals presenting their points of view.
The Portuguese Secretary of State for Health, Diogo Serras Lopes, closed the session, reiterating the three pillars that provided the theme of the conference – availability, accessibility and affordability – and offering a note of caution: “It is necessary to consider the costs and prices not only of medicines but also medical devices,” since “all of our countries are facing very high health technology expenditure that is overloading our health system budgets, an increase in outlay that is not sustainable in the long term”.
Serras Lopes also stressed that there is a need for “much greater transparency in the pricing negotiations for medicines and medical devices. And this, we firmly believe, can be the outcome of more closely integrating our health systems: it gives the European Union the power of our 500 million citizens for increased efficiency and sustainability in our universal health systems”.