More than 33,000 people call on the Swiss Federal Council to take steps to curb the exorbitant cost of medicines

Public Eye submitted to Alain Berset, the Health Minister, a giant packet of medication containing the 33,103 signatures gathered as part of its collective appeal for affordable medicines. The signatories are requesting the Swiss Federal Council to make use of compulsory licensing where necessary, to fight against the emergence of a two-tier healthcare system in Switzerland. The reaction to parliamentary initiatives submitted in this respect demonstrates the lack of political will on the part of the government to protect patients rather than patents.
© [Translate to English:] Bild: Sébastien Gerber

The explosion of the cost of life-saving medicines is of increasing concern to the Swiss population, as is shown by surveys and articles in the media that regularly address this core aspect of our healthcare policy. Together with the Swiss Cancer League and patient associations, Public Eye is requesting the Federal Council to use compulsory licensing whenever the defence of the public interest requires it. This instrument – provided for in Swiss and international legislation – enables the marketing of lower-cost generic medication even where patents exist. It is an efficient means of ensuring access for everyone to lifesaving treatment and of alleviating the healthcare budget.

Our collective appeal for affordable medicines was supported by 33,103 people. Their names were printed on the package insert of a giant packet of medication labelled “Remedium forte” (“Strong Remedy”), and over five metres long, which was today unfolded in front of the Federal Parliament Building. The signatories are requesting concrete action to put an end to the perversion of the patents system by pharmaceuticals companies. The message is clear: in Switzerland or elsewhere, access to healthcare should not come down to a question of how much money you have.

The problem of the exorbitant price of patented medicines used to concern mainly developing and emerging countries. Several of them tried to resort to compulsory licensing to solve this problem, but their initiatives were hindered or reduced to zero because of the strong pressure applied by the companies concerned and the countries hosting them. In its recent reply to the question put forward by Sibel Arslan (Green Party / Basel-City), the Federal Council fully recognised the sovereignty of all countries in the use of compulsory licensing. However, the current negotiations on a free-trade agreement with Indonesia cast doubt on this position, as shown by the criticisms voiced yesterday with regard to the Trade Minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann, by an international coalition of NGOs.

When questioned about direct interventions designed to prevent compulsory licensing, such as that of the ex-CEO of Novartis toward the Colombian president mentioned by Sibel Arslan, the Federal Council replied laconically: it “doesn’t comment on the content of e-mails sent by representatives who are not part of the federal administration and which are not addressed to the Federal Council”. This attitude is symptomatic of the “head in the sand” policy practised by the government with regard to its domestic policy on the question of the pricing of medicines. Its position on the question submitted by Angelo Barrile (PS/ZH) remains uncertain. This doctor wishes to know, in particular: “Why does the Federal Council consider that the mechanism of compulsory licensing […] does not produce the desired results?”. The ball is in the court of the Federal Council, who must clearly state whether it intends to respond to the concerns of the population and the needs of public health, rather than the financial interests of pharmaceuticals companies.

Photos available to the media here.

For more information, please contact:
Géraldine Viret, media contact: 021 620 03 05,
Patrick Durisch, health policy expert: 021 620 03 06,