According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 30 percent of the world’s population lacks regular access to medicines, with this figure rising to over 50 percent in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa.

Governments have often blamed this on the price of medicines, and have responded with a number of market interventions such as price controls, compulsory licenses, and legalised parallel trading.

However, governments themselves are major contributors to the final retail price of medicines, through import tariffs and a range of domestic taxes. While such tariffs are gradually declining around the world, they are still as high as 15% – thereby acting as a tax on sick people.

This global study examines the latest data on drug tariffs for every country for which such information is available, and reveals import tariffs on imported medicines, active ingredients required for drug manufacture, vaccines and antibiotics. It also collates some initial data on domestic medicine taxes, such as Value Added Tax (VAT), sales taxes and port charges.

Import tariffs and taxes raise little revenue for governments, the poor are least able to afford them, and they hamper access to quality medicines. Those countries which retain such policies should take steps towards abolishing them completely