BACKGROUND: More alternatives have become available for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in low- and middle-income countries. Because of increasing demands, governments are now facing a problem of limited affordability and availability of essential cancer medicines. Yet, precise information about the access to these medicines is limited, and the methodology is not very well developed. We assessed the availability and affordability of essential cancer medicines in Mexico, and compared their prices against those in other countries of the region.
METHODS: We surveyed 21 public hospitals and 19 private pharmacies in 8 states of Mexico. Data were collected on the availability and prices of 49 essential cancer medicines. Prices were compared against those in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and PAHO's Strategic Fund.
RESULTS: Of the various medicines, mean availability in public and private sector outlets was 61.2 and 67.5%, respectively. In the public sector, medicines covered by the public health insurance "People's Health Insurance" were more available. Only seven (public sector) and five (private sector) out of the 49 medicines were considered affordable. Public sector procurement prices were 41% lower than in other countries of the region.
CONCLUSIONS: The availability of essential cancer medicines, in the public and private sector, falls below World Health Organization's 80% target. The affordability remains suboptimal as well. A national health insurance scheme could serve as a mechanism to improve access to cancer medicines in the public sector. Comprehensive pricing policies are warranted to improve the affordability of cancer medicines in the private sector.