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Indicators for Tracking the Effect of the Economic Crisis on Pharmaceutical Consumption, Expenditures and Unit Prices

Executive Summary

The World Health Organization has established a programme to track the impact of the global economic crisis on the consumption of medicines worldwide in co-operation with IMS Health. Programme reports, to be issued quarterly, assess patterns in pharmaceutical usage from 83 countries representing approximately 81% of the global population. This first report examines changes in consumption volume, medicine expenditure, and price changes based primarily on information collected by IMS through the first quarter of 2009. It also measures movement from what traditionally are seen as more expensive branded treatments, as well as those medicines used to treat chronic diseases. These indicators all have been impacted by economic downturns in the past.

Through Q1 2009, although some countries saw a decline in the average price per unit of volume at the point of sale monitored by IMS, several saw an increase. This is associated with an increase in total expenditure on pharmaceuticals in the last half of 2008. At the same time, however, the volume of pharmaceutical consumption does not appear to have been adversely affected in most countries, with the apparent exception of some Eastern European countries. To date, there does not appear to be a major change in overall volume of medicines used, or a specific decline in medicines used to treat chronic diseases -- both of which occurred during the Asian economic crisis of 1997. There is no firm evidence to date that the current economic crisis has had a detrimental impact on access to medicines. Overall, countries have absorbed moderate price increases without affecting medicine consumption.

Historically, the impact of economic crises is rarely felt consistently across countries, and it may be too soon in the current downturn to measure its full impact. The data collection methods and analytic tools that are being applied in this study will enable the WHO to detect significant changes when they occur. When such changes are detected, governments of most countries have a range of policy instruments to address the situation -- from improvement in stock levels of essential medicines to specific programmes designed to sustain health in the more vulnerable parts of society.

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