After three years in the making, last week the Commonwealth Secretariat launched its new Voluntary Information and Price-Sharing database (VIPSD). One-third of the world’s population lacks access to essential medicines, with most of them living in poor countries, while rising prices of new drugs are becoming a challenge in wealthy states. And, since the global Covid-19 pandemic, the urgent need for essential medicines has intensified.
After three years in the making, last week the Commonwealth Secretariat launched its new Voluntary Information and Price-Sharing database (VIPSD).
One-third of the world’s population lacks access to essential medicines, with most of them living in poor countries, while rising prices of new drugs are becoming a challenge in wealthy states. And, since the global Covid-19 pandemic, the urgent need for essential medicines has intensified.
Following a request from Commonwealth health ministers in 2018, the Secretariat has now developed an easy-to-access database for countries to exchange information about their medical supplies and view available goods at fair prices and assured quality. Its goal is to increase equitable access to essential quality medicines, health commodities and pharmaceutical procurement data.
The database was presented recently to health ministers at their annual meeting, which they endorsed as a vital resource for promoting equitable access to essential medical supplies across the Commonwealth and to help achieve health for all in a sustainable manner. The database will be accessible to government officials in the Commonwealth.
The VIPSD, which will assist member states with informed decision-making when sourcing essential medicines, vaccines and health technologies. Besides being able to access a searchable database of verified supply information to support informed decision making for procurement processes, members can also access data-driven insights on medicines, technologies and supply chains to support key stakeholders.
At the launch last week, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland set the context by saying:
“It is disturbing to consider that by WHO reckoning 2 billion people have little or no access to essential medicines and vaccines, and 80% live in countries with zero or very little access to controlled medicines for relieving moderate to severe pain. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us even more acutely aware of the scale of such injustice.”
In speaking of the launch of the database, the Secretary-General said:
“We see this tool having immense and long-term potential to help us build the fairer and more inclusive future we wish to see being enjoyed by people living in all Commonwealth countries and communities. As a fine example of pioneering Commonwealth innovation and collaboration, this database can be a bright ray as we continue to shine as a beacon for multilateralism.”
Besides being endorsed by Commonwealth member countries, global health organisations that support countries to meet their health SDGs have also been receptive of the database.
Dr Clive Ondari, Coordinator of Access to Medicines at the World Health Organization, commented: “We are excited about this Commonwealth initiative and look forward to supporting its efforts. Through this initiative, the Commonwealth is leading the way in addressing access to transparent and fair pricing. There is an opportunity for the Voluntary Information Price Sharing database to contribute to increased transparency of information and improved data and evidence for policy.”
Victoria Rutter of the Commonwealth Pharmacists’ Association, and chair of the working group to help support the voluntary information and price sharing database, urged others “to help connect us to the procurement leads and other relevant stakeholders for your country, to ensure that all member states of the Commonwealth have the chance to benefit from this valuable initiative…. [we] need to work with all stakeholders - government, civil society and the private sector to address access issues. We need your participation to ensure we are meeting your needs and to make this initiative a success.”
Other speakers at the launch event included Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar, a trustee of the Commonwealth Pharmacy Association and Director of the Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice Research Centre, as well as Commonwealth Secretariat policy experts.