Latvia is the latest Eastern European country to join forces with the European trade association for the research-based pharmaceutical industry (EFPIA) in order to improve access to medicines and patient care. According to a ‘Letter of Intent’, signed this summer between the Latvian Ministry of Health, the Academy of Sciences, the Association of International Research-based Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (SIFFA) and EFPIA, the parties agree to a joint collaboration to improve healthcare across Latvia. 
EFPIA emphasises how “The Letter of Intent underscores the continued efforts of the research-based pharmaceutical industry to forge partnerships with Governments across Europe to support the sustainability of national health services and increase access to innovative medicines for the benefits of patients.”
New medicines and better access
One of the main goals of the alliance is to improve the availability of medicines, particularly innovative medicines, and ensure transparency in the reimbursed medicines system. One area of focus in particular, is an increased investment in research, especially R & D of new medicines in Latvia. There is also a focus on supporting Latvian researchers within financial instruments offered by the industry (such as Horizon 2020, the EU Research and Innovation programme, which boasts €80 billion of funding from 2014 to 2020).
SIFFA is an ideal partner in this collaboration, since its members have been engaged in both medicine production and development and research of new medicines. Their investment into Latvia’s healthcare system for the past three years has exceeded more than 20 million Euros. Founded in January 1996, SIFFA initially united five representatives of foreign pharmaceutical firms operating in Latvia (Glaxo Welcome, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Boehringer Ingelheim, Schering and Eli Lilly), however to date, its 20 members represent some of the world’s biggest manufacturers of pharmaceutical products.
The Latvian transparency code
Last year, a ‘Code of Practice on the Promotion of Medicinal Products’ was adopted by SIFFA as well as the Latvian Generic Medicines Association (LPMA) and their members. The document, which ensures compliance with EU Directive 2001/83/EC and has been in force since January this year, states that “The code ensures that pharmaceutical companies conduct promotion of medicinal products in a truthful manner so that the public can be confident that choices regarding their medicines are being made on the basis of the merits of each product and the healthcare needs of the patients.”
The Code forbids the giving of gifts to healthcare professionals and does not permit donations and grants to individuals. These can be given to institutions, organisations and associations comprised of healthcare professionals only if they are made for the purpose of supporting healthcare or research and do not influence prescribing habits. The same rules apply to fees and services. There are also strict rules for the use of consultant services and sponsorship of HCPs attending events. This information is outlined in a document entitled ‘Application Regulations of the Code of Practice on the Promotion of Medicinal Products’ . A written agreement is also required when pharmaceutical companies provide financial support, significant indirect support and/or significant non-financial support to patient organisations.
The Latvian Disclosure Code , adopted alongside the Code of Conduct, contains the model template provided by EFPIA’s Code of Practice which allows all financial interactions to be recorded. According to the Latvian Code, each pharmaceutical company must make publicly available a list of patient organisations that it has engaged to provide paid-for services. The public platform of disclosure, according to the Disclosure Code, can either be on a common database provided by SIFFA and or the LMPA, on a member company’s website or on a common database provided by relevant governmental regulatory or professional institutions in Latvia.
The disclosure of payments to healthcare professionals can raise data privacy concerns; however, the Latvian trade associations agree to work with healthcare professionals, institutions and organisations to address these. “SIFFA and LPMA nonetheless believe that transparency can be achieved without sacrificing the legitimate privacy interests of healthcare professionals. The legislation should not therefore impose excessive restrictions on disclosure by the pharmaceutical industry.”
Ruth Knowles is a freelance science writer who has written articles and press releases on a range of life science and health topics. She received her MSc in Science Communication from the University of the West of England, Bristol.