Global drug price disparity

Global drug price disparity

Extraordinarily high prices in US pull up worldwide median, with costs in Thailand at the bottom, according to 50-country survey

Massive differences exist in medicine prices globally, with Thailand having some of the cheapest prices in the world for some branded and generic products, according to Medbelle, a UK-based startup that bills itself as the world's first digital hospital.

The company has produced a comparative index across 50 countries, revealing the differences in cost of some of the most widely recognised and indispensable medications. The resulting sortable charts with a drop-down menu to examine individual drugs can be viewed on the company's website.

Medbelle's comparison is on a dollar-for-dollar basis across countries, regardless of whether they are covered by a healthcare system, or paid directly from the individual's pocket.

The 13 medications chosen for comparison span a variety of common conditions: from heart disease and asthma to anxiety disorders and erectile dysfunction. The average prices of both the branded and generic versions were included, as not every country offers both choices to consumers. Dosage sizes were normalised in order to make prices more easily comparable.

Not surprisingly, the results show staggeringly high prices for many drugs in the US, which spends 18% of its GDP -- higher than any country in the world -- on healthcare. Some prices are so high they skew the overall results dramatically.

For example, the antibacterial medication Zithromax costs $71.92 per 500-milligramme dose and the generic version, Azithromycin, is $3.94. That's 1,755% above the global median. Lipitor (Atorvastatin), used to treat cardiovascular disease, is 2,175% above the median at $15.86 for the branded product and 40 cents for the generic. That compares with Thai prices of 41 cents and 29 cents, respectively.

The survey shows that overall, prices in Thailand are 92.9% below the median, lower than in any other country. That does not necessarily mean Thailand has the cheapest drugs in the world. The results are skewed once the prices of all 13 medications are aggregated and the overall median recalculated.

But many medications are priced very reasonably in Thailand, the Medbelle study shows. Viread, the branded version of Tenofovir, used to treat Hepatitis B and HIV/Aids, costs $1.40 for 245mg, and 79 cents for the generic version, 83.9% below the median. The anti-anxiety medication Xanax (Alprazolam) is also a relative bargain in Thailand at 5 cents per 1mg dose for the branded product and 2 cents for the generic, or 77.1% below the median.

Not all drugs are inexpensive in Thailand, though. For example, insulin at $11.71 per dose for the branded product Lantus, is just 3.65% below the global median of $13 (the US price is $90.31). The immunosuppression drug Prograf, at $3.51, is 85.5% above the median. The antidepressant Prozac, at 98 cents per 20mg dose, is 30.7% above the median, although generic Fluoxetine costs just 2 cents per dose.

To view the full survey, visit

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