HP435      Half Unit
Global Access to Medicines

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Olivier Wouters COW 2.06


This course is available on the MSc in Global Health Policy, MSc in Health Policy, Planning and Financing, MSc in Health and International Development, MSc in International Health Policy and MSc in International Health Policy (Health Economics). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Priority will be given to students from the Department of Health Policy in the first instance.

Course content

An estimated 1 in 4 people worldwide lack access to essential medicines, with prescription drugs often unaffordable or unavailable. The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals call for member states to guarantee “access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all” by 2030. Yet precisely how this will be achieved remains highly contested among global health stakeholders.

This course asks students to explore the complex and contentious world of drug development and regulation across the globe. It will touch on topics such as incentives for research and development in the drug industry, intellectual property rights and medicines, and pricing and financing of essential medicines. The course lies at the intersection of health and public policy, economics, public health, and development studies.

The lectures and seminars will draw on real-world case studies to explore key policy and economic issues affecting pharmaceutical markets in a range of countries, with an emphasis on the affordability, availability, and accessibility of medicines and vaccines. The course will investigate these issues from the perspectives of different stakeholders, including health ministries and other government bodies, drug companies, non-governmental organizations, physicians, pharmacists, and patients.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe key features of pharmaceutical markets.
  2. Identify policy and economic issues affecting access to medicines globally.
  3. Assess national drug policies using an access to medicines framework.
  4. Compare and contrast pharmaceutical policies regionally or internationally.
  5. Evaluate pharmaceutical policy options given a set of aims and assumptions.
  6. Critically appraise the quality of theoretical and empirical studies of pharmaceutical policies.


This course will be taught in no less than 25 hours and will consist of lectures and seminars delivered in the Autumn Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT.

Indicative reading

1. Bigdeli M, Jacobs B, Tomson G, et al (2013). “Access to medicines from a health system perspective.” Health Policy and Planning, 28: 692-704.

2. Cameron A, Ewen M, Ross-Degnan D, et al (2009). “Medicine prices, availability, and affordability in 36 developing and middle-income countries: A secondary analysis.” The Lancet, 373: 240-249.

3. Nguyen TA, Knight R, Roughead EE, et al (2015). “Policy options for pharmaceutical pricing and purchasing: Issues for low- and middle-income countries.” Health Policy and Planning, 30: 267-280.

4. Shadlen KC, Sampat BN, Kapczynski A (2020). “Patents, trade and medicines: Past, present and future.” Review of International Political Economy, 25(1): 75-97.

5. Wirtz VJ, Hogerzeil HV, Gray AL, et al (2017). “Essential medicines for universal health coverage.” The Lancet, 389(10067): 403-476.

6. Wouters OJ, McKee M, Luyten J (2020). “Estimated research and development investment needed to bring a new medicine to market, 2009-2018.” JAMA, 323(9): 844-853.

7. Wouters OJ, Shadlen KC, Salcher-Konrad M, et al (2021). “Challenges in ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines: Production, affordability, allocation, and deployment.” The Lancet, 397(10278): 1023-1034.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the WT.

Key facts

Department: Health Policy

Total students 2022/23: 50

Average class size 2022/23: 17

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness