In 2018, Donald Trump created an international uproar by calling out poor health conditions in what he reportedly referred to as ‘shithole countries.’
Meanwhile, contagious diseases that medical professionals have called “medieval” and “Third World diseases” continue to spread in the U.S., as rates of homelessness, drug use, and immigration all climb.
And as Headline Health has often reported, several nations around the world have become breeding grounds for hard-to-treat bugs that may soon reach U.S. shores through immigration, international travel, or imported food and other products.
Against this backdrop, we’re now learning that a contributing factor to the emergence and spread of many of these diseases is that big pharmaceutical companies do not see enough profit potential in developing and supplying drugs for the 85 percent of the world population that lives in “developing or underdeveloped” countries.
Big Pharma sees more upside in letting both old and new diseases percolate around the globe, then cashing in on selling treatments in wealthier nations once these diseases inevitably spread. The opinion piece below recently appeared in The Guardian. – Editor
Big pharma can only see the benefit of R&D for wealthy markets
By Kenan Malik
There is too little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to work on treatments for diseases of low-income countries
5 May 2019
The Guardian – At the end of April, health workers in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya began rolling out the first and so far only vaccine proved to protect against malaria.
It’s part of a World Health Organization pilot programme that could immunize more than one million children by 2023.
Yet, while this is a welcome step in the fight against malaria, it also exposes the problems in developing vaccines for use in non-western countries.
The vaccine, called RTS,S, prevents malaria in only 40% of cases.
It has taken more than 30 years to develop and cost more than $700m.
The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, proclaimed itself “incredibly proud to see it rolled out”, but added: “This kind of endeavor can’t be repeated, from GSK’s point of view.”
That’s because all drug research and development is based on a model of a multinational charging high prices for products tailored to wealthy markets. [Emphasis added.]
As there is little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to conduct R&D for diseases that affect populations with limited purchasing power, a report for Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières observes, so “some diseases continue to be unaddressed by vaccines altogether, while many vaccines are not well-adapted for people in developing countries”.
There are about 240 vaccines in early stages of development for diseases that predominantly affect people in non-western countries.
Yet only a handful have in recent years made it through the pipeline for use in low-income countries. It’s an indictment of a system in which profit talks but needs are neglected.
Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist. His opinion is republished here under Fair Use.
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