In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the prices of 67 drugs manufactured by Pfizer and Merck Sharp & Dohme will be cut by between 5% and 40% in July, and around other 20 multinational drugmakers are also expected to reduce their prices, say officials.

The reductions follow lengthy negotiations with drugmakers after a price comparison study conducted by a committee of the Ministry of Health found that drug prices in the UAE are the highest out of six neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab states - Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Reporting the findings in February, Ministry official Dr Amin al Amiri had said the study had found, for example, "a drug costing 180 dirhams in the UAE… costs 105 dirhams in Saudi Arabia. This is not fair."

Moreover, in 2009 advocacy group Health Action International (HAI) had reported that patients in the UAE were paying at least four times as much for branded drugs as they were for generics; patented products account for around 75% of the domestic pharmaceutical market. Many people in the UAE do not have health insurance, and even those who are insured are required to obtain approval from their insurers before they can receive cholesterol-lowering drugs which have been prescribed for them, according to local reports.

The reports also quote patients as saying that they pay the same amount for six months' supply of their chronic medications from India as they would for a single month's worth sourced in the UAE.

Most of the July price reductions will be for treatments for high blood pressure and cholesterol, prostate hypertrophy, epilepsy, depression and schizophrenia, plus a range of antibiotics, steroids, antifungals and analgesics, according to a statement from the Ministry.  Their prices will be reduced to levels comparable in the other GCC states. 

Among Pfizer's products, the price reductions will include: - the top-selling cholesterol-lower Lipitor 80mg (atorvastatin) dropping from 356 dirhams to 285 dirhams; - antidepressant Zoloft 50mg (sertraline) going from 156 dirhams to 125 dirhams; - growth hormone Geotropin 5.3mg (somatropin [rDNA origin] for injection) dropping from 528.50 dirhams to 483.50 dirhams; and - cholesterol-reducer Zocor 20mg (simvastatin) from 230.50 dirhams to 222 dirhams.

The lower prices will be available in all private pharmacies in the UAE and will be obtained through reductions in cost/insurance/freight (CIF) charges, rather than squeezing pharmacies further, according to local reports.

The prices of 209 new medicines registered with the Ministry during the past six months have already been reduced. In total, 8,509 medicines are currently registered in the UAE.