Companies Should Research Health Care Products For Use in Developing Nations
The industry of medical research and product development is an expensive and risky business in which the rate of failure far outweighs the likelihood of success (Glaxo). Only the largest companies can afford to invest large amounts of time and capital in projects that seem to have little chance of striking research gold--a drug that is effective, safe, and marketable for a profit. This creates an obvious problem: what incentives exist that would encourage companies to make a commitment to the development and distribution of products that are not likely to produce great returns, namely medicines that would be used mainly in third world countries? Are these companies morally obligated to earmark at least some of their profits to pursue such projects? What responsibilities do the governments of developing nations have to their citizens in providing and improving health care?
Some of the most urgent current health issues in developing countries are the threats posed by drug-resistant TB and malaria, Hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, meningococcal meningitis, and typhoid fever (Alameda). Vaccines are available for all of the above infections except TB and malaria, but separate injections are required for each, some require follow-ups, and each injection costs as much as $75 (Alameda). This is an expense that is obviously not practical for most rural citizens in Africa and Southeast Asia, some of the areas where these diseases are most prevalent (Glaxo). No relief effort to date has the resources to make widespread distribution of these vaccines possible or practical. The very beginning of the battle is making products that will greatly increase the health of a general population available to countries that cannot afford to pay for them at "retail" price. Possibly more daunting is encouraging investment in the development of even better new products which are obviously not likely to be profitable, even on a large scale.
Of all the diseases mentioned above, malaria presents a threat to the greatest number of people. It is a health problem today in more that 90 countries, with total populations of more than 2,400 million people--about 40% of the world's population. It is estimated that there are up to 500 million cases a year worldwide (Glaxo). A British pharmaceutical company called Glaxo Wellcome recently developed the first new industrially researched malaria remedy since World War II. It is a combination drug containing 2 substances, atovaquone and proguanil, given the commercial name Malarone. While this product has proven to be extremely effective in cases involving drug-resistant strains of malaria, the atovaquone component is very expensive to produce, and each recipient requires a full round of therapy lest a Malarone-resistant strain of malaria develop (Glaxo). Most of the people who need Malarone have no access to consistent health care, and cannot afford to pay...