Cost of medicines around the world: prices are highest in the USA

The price paid for some medications varies greatly around the world.

A comparative study has analyzed price differences for 13 drugs in 50 countries worldwide. The United States topped the list as the country where the drugs were most expensive, closely followed by Japan. At the other end of the scale, Thailand was where access to the treatments was cheapest.

In the study conducted by London-based digital healthcare platform Medbelle, 13 common pharmaceutical compounds were selected with a view to comparing their cost in euros in different countries, regardless of whether they were covered by a health care systems or paid for directly by patients.

The comparative studied selected drugs that are massively prescribed around the world to treat a variety of common conditions such as heart disease, asthma, anxiety disorders and erectile dysfunction.

Average prices for branded compounds and their generic versions were included so as to have a comprehensive profile for each drug. The dosage size was also normalized in order to make the prices comparable. Once all this data had been gathered, it was possible to calculate the median price for each compound in the 50 countries, as well as the deviation between the real cost per dose in each country and the median global cost (from the most to the least expensive). 

Major price differences between countries

The biggest difference was between the United States (+306.82%), the highest ranked country, and Thailand (-93.93%), the cheapest country for the drugs, which underlined the huge difference in prices that patients pay for the same drug around the world.

Overall, countries tended to score differently for different drug types, with the exception of the United States, which was systematically ranked first among the most expensive 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. 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," points out Daniel Kolb, the co-founder and managing director of Medbelle.

The birth control pill Yasmin +785.99% more expensive in the USA 

A drug like Viagra is also worth its weight in gold in the USA, where it is + 785.99% more expensive compared to the global average of the 50 countries studied. Japan (+ 371.78%) and Chile (+ 182.65%) are the other two countries where Viagra, the world's most famous drug, is priced highest. At the other end of the table, the countries where Viagra is most accessible are Ireland (-90.57%), Egypt (-89.24%) and Argentina (-81.42%).

The birth control pill Yasmin was also much more costly in the United States (+ 785.99%), Japan (+ 785.99%), and Chile (+ 182.65%), compared to Egypt (-73.18%), the Netherlands (- 55.68%) and India (-54.94%).

"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. However, the deviation unveiled by this study is extreme. It is our hope that this index can be used to further the discussion around the immense inequality between countries when it comes to the accessibility and cost-effectiveness of healthcare," said Daniel Kolb.