Former Director Of Italian Medicines Agency Recognized For Drug Transparency Work
Luca Li Bassi holds his transparency award

Former general director of the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) Luca Li Bassi was awarded the 2019 “International Transparency in Medicines Policies Awards” by the French civil society watchdog group l’Observatoire Médicaments Transparences (the Observatory for Transparency in Medicines), for his efforts in negotiating a milestone World Health Assembly resolution in May 2019 supporting more public disclosure of medicines costs by countries, which are now generally obliged to keep their purchase contracts with pharma suppliers secret under non-disclosure agreements. French MP Caroline Fiat was awarded the French national prize by the NGO for her efforts to encourage price transparency in the parliament.

Li Bassi navigated the draft resolution on “Improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines, and other health products,” through a complex set of technical barriers and member state objections to final approval during the seventieth-second World Health Assembly.

Following on the WHA resolution, Li Bassi drafted and won Italian government approval for a decree requiring pharma companies to disclose any public contributions that they had received for R&D costs of new drugs, as part of their portfolio submissions for drug reimbursements by the national health system. While the decree was signed by both Ministers of Health and Finance in August 2019, Li Bassi was replaced as head of AIFA in a government reshuffle in last autumn, and the decree is yet to be published in the national gazette, when it would then officially take effect.

“Scientists, policy makers and the public all need to have more and clearer information on the life-cycle of medicines if we all are committed to achieve universal access to treatments,” Li Bassi told Health Policy Watch, regarding his efforts on the transparency issue. “The current asymmetry of information is not helping society to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the current system and to explore ways to improve it.”

Caroline Fiat holds her transparency award

Caroline Fiat, a Member of the French Parliament for the political party La France Insoumise, was recognized by the Observatory for leading the charge on an amendment to the French Bill on Social Security Funding for 2020, that would require pharmaceutical disclosure of public contributions to R&D costs.

After bouncing back and forth between the National Assembly and the Senate, the amendment was finally adopted in the final version of the Bill, only to be blocked by the French Constitutional Council on a procedural technicality. The legal objection centered around the fact that French Minister of Health Olivier Véran initially had rejected all transparency amendments in the first reading of the bill. That led to the Council’s censoring of the final amendments, even after Véran joined the transparency bloc to co-write the amendment that was adopted by both houses of French legislators. Fiat has continued to push forward the issue by submitting public questions on the implementation of the amendment to the Ministry of Health, which has the authority to override the constitutional objections.

In an oblique reference to Véran’s inaction so far, representatives of the Observatory said in a press release that they are waiting on Véran to publicly confirm his support for the transparency amendment, and “hope to award him with this prize” in the future.

Skyrocketing medicines prices around the world have put transparency higher on the global health agenda, as proponents argued that the secrecy around disclosure of medicines prices and R&D costs puts public health systems at a disadvantage when negotiating medicine prices – combatting pharma industry claims that the information is proprietary and confidentiality is needed to encourage costly medicines R&D.

In its press release, the Observatory said the awards to “pay tribute to critical individual and courageous actions” and “shed light on people occupying institutional positions” that push forward initiatives on transparency in many aspects of their work.

Transparency Legislation Recognized As Team Effort

In his comments to Health Policy Watch, Li Bassi’s view said his reward represented “the result of the efforts made by many delegates at the last World Health Assembly to take a milestone step for global health.”

“While it was indeed challenging to arrive to a consensus on a very contentious topic, the efforts made to reach an agreement were fueled by an incredible motivation in all delegates to do something concrete to improve access to medicines and other health products,” he added. 

The Observatory also paid tribute to all the countries who “co-sponsored” the resolution on transparency, against stiff opposition from a handful of governments. That included Lenias Hwenda, representative of Zimbabwe and vice-chair of the negotiating group, as well as other representatives of countries.

In France, a number of politicians across seven different political parties have supported the transparency amendment. Fiat has also aligned her efforts with hospital and emergency care health workers in France who have been protesting against cuts to public hospitals in staffing, funding, and equipment.

“Major progresses in health policies cannot be attributed to individuals alone,” said the Observatory press release. “Democratic life needs such strong, courageous and concrete actions, from various stakeholders, and cannot content itself with lukewarm actions.”

Image Credits: l'Observatoire Médicaments Transparences.

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