SA #45 out of 50 worldwide for cost of meds – with USA #1


There are many studies showing that the sometimes excessive cost of medicine can push entire families into poverty. Now, a new data-driven study by digital healthcare provider Medbelle highlights the variations in the cost of medicines around the world.

The study is a follow-up to their research on the accessibility of the world’s best hospitals, where they decided to investigate another common barrier to healthcare access, i.e. the price of medicine. They went ahead and looked at 50 countries around the world, revealing vast price differences between a number of common, indispensable medications. 

How the study was done

Medbelle selected 13 vital pharmaceutical medications and compared their prices in different countries on a dollar-for-dollar basis – regardless whether paid for by individuals or covered by healthcare. 

The products chosen for comparison included medication for diabetes, anxiety disorders, heart disease and erectile dysfunction. 

In order to have a complete profile of each medication, the average prices of both the brand compound and their generic versions were included, and the dosage size was standardised in order to be a fair comparison.

Median price determined

Once the above was determined, the median price for each medication across the 50 countries was calculated, and it was noted how much the price per dose deviated from the median global cost in each country.

All percentages deviate from a 0% median, so the higher the percentage, the more expensive the medication is, and vice versa.  

Most expensive vs. cheapest

The US reveals a shocking +306.82% deviation from the median cost, making it the region with the costliest medication, while Thailand came in at the lowest with a -93.93% deviation. 

South Africa ranks positively low at #45 out of 50 worldwide for the cost of medication, with a deviation from the median range at -53.72%.

For Insulin Glargine (Lantus), used in the management of type I and type II diabetes, South Africa ranks #43 out of 50 worldwide, and #47 for Viagra (Sildenafil). 

The table below reveals a sample of results for the top and bottom 10 countries with the highest and lowest medication costs in the world:



The following countries ranked the highest and lowest in terms of cost for the 13 medications:

Viagra (Sildenafil) – Erectile Dysfunction

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: Ireland

Lyrica (Pregabalin) – Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, among others

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: New Zealand

Lipitor (Atorvastatin) – Cardiovascular Disease, High Cholesterol

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: New Zealand 

Ventolin (Salbutamol) – Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: Egypt 

Zithromax (Azithromycin) – Bacterial Infection

Most expensive: USA 

east expensive: India

Lantus (Insulin Glargine) – Diabetes Type I and II

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: Egypt 

Prograf (Tacrolimus) – Immunosuppression, Transplant Rejection Prevention

Most expensive: Saudi Arabia 

Least expensive: India 

Yasmin (Drospirenone/Ethinylestradiol) – Female Contraception

Most expensive: USA 

Least expensive: Egypt 

Prozac (Fluoxetine) – Depression, Bulimia, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others

Most expensive: USA 

Least expensive: Netherlands 

Xanax (Alprazolam) – Anxiety and Panic Disorder

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: China

Zestril (Lisinopril) – High Blood Pressure

Most expensive: USA 

Least expensive: Indonesia 

Viread (Tenofovir) - Hepatitis B, HIV/Aids

Most expensive: USA

Least expensive: South Korea, followed by South Africa 

Humira (Adalimumab) - Arthritis, Bowel Disease, Skin Disorders, among others

Most expensive: USA 

Least expensive: India 

The complete study with details results can be viewed on Medbelle

Why the high cost in some countries?

“One of the most glaring results of the study is how much higher the cost of medicine is in the United States in comparison to the rest of the world,” commented Daniel Kolb, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Medbelle. 

“Take Insulin for example – our study shows that Americans pay around five and a half times more than the global median for the life-saving diabetes medication.

"To put it into perspective, imagine if an everyday item like a gallon (3.8 litres) of milk cost $3.50 (R51.50) in Canada, but $22.85 (R336) across the border in the US,” he added. For this reason, according to Kolb, Medbelle have made it their mission to increase transparency regarding price and quality of medication.

But could there be a rational explanation for the striking differences in cost?

“Generally, due to different levels of taxation, transportation cost, purchasing power, levels of income and patents, some price differences across borders are to be expected,” said Kolb.

However, he added that the deviation unveiled by the Medbelle study is extreme, and that it should generate further discussion around the world.

High costs can push people below poverty line

It’s a global phenomenon that people are struggling to make ends meet because of the rising cost of healthcare – and especially the cost of medicines plays a critical role here.

The World Economic Forum indicates that 100 million people are pushed into poverty every year because of the unaffordability of medication. And, in many cases, people don’t have a choice but to forego treatment and allow the disease to run its course, ultimately "choosing" death.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank reveal that more than one billion people live with uncontrolled hypertension, which can kill without treatment.

Needless to say, and to stress Kolb’s point, a reduction in the price of medication would be the solution. A lot needs to be done for generic medication to become affordable. It is an urgent need that needs to become a priority, particularly in countries that are in the higher ranges of the Medbelle list.

Image: iStock
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