Due to the difficulty in accessing drugs from brand-name pharmaceutical companies, most patients in developing nations are heavily relying on less-expensive generic drugs.
One inhibiting issue is that of patenting and intellectual property protection. The World Trade Organization’s law stipulates that patents should last for 20 years from the registration date. This presumably will provide the drug companies an opportunity to recoup money spent on R&D and marketing the drug. This also allows the manufacturer to establish the price for the drugs, which are often very high, thereby making them inaccessible to people in poor countries. However, these pharmaceutical businesses are not entirely to blame for this result. After all they are for-profit organizations, and patents and intellectual property laws are frequently ignored in poorer countries, thereby possibly subjecting the companies to financial losses.
The Chinese had major problems with malaria over the years, and then developed an herbal remedy Qing–hao for its treatment. The most effective treatments have been these herbal medicines that also contain quinine.
During War II, 60,000 U.S. troops died of malaria during their campaigns in Africa and the South Pacific. In perspective, the total number of U.S. soldiers that died in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars was 64,926, about the same as died from malaria during World War II. Numerous scientific journals and scientists state that malaria alone may have killed over half of all humans who have ever lived. This is a huge number and may not be verifiable given that people were dying of the disease 10,000 years ago. HIV/AIDS deaths in 2015 were about 1 million, cholera about 110,000, malaria about 600,000 and bacterial pneumonia about 10 million. Pneumonia is the single largest killer of kids under 5. Effective vaccines have not been readily available to the estimated 151 million who contract the disease each year.
AIDS related deaths have been seriously declining over the years, largely because of access to antiretroviral therapy. Low-cost vaccines discovered in India and distributed worldwide have made the drug available to about 41 percent of the total number of infected people.
Homicides committed with guns in the U.S. annually take about 12,000 lives. The Charlie Hebdo and San Bernardino attacks killed about 40 combined. ISIS has killed just over 6,000 people and the Syrian conflict has led to over 250,000 losing their lives. These deaths understandably dominate the media.
There is less coverage of the millions dying each year from the diseases mentioned above. Why? An argument can be made that it is because the victims of these deaths are not, for the most part, from Western societies. These diseases do not afflict people in the West to such a great degree, and if they do, those living in developed countries can more easily and effectively treat them.
This next point is not often made. These early deaths could be depriving us of some who would have grown up to be great world figures like Nelson Mandela, Mo Ibrahim, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, or Mahatma Gandhi. If every life is equal, we should do all that we can to prevent people from dying early.
Preventive approaches, such as better sanitation, access to clean drinking water and mosquito netting will curb malaria and cholera respectively. We need to do all that we can to support well-coordinated efforts amongst the World Bank, the U.N., WHO, pharmaceutical firms, NGOs and charities. Working cooperatively and collaboratively will lead to more efficient research, development and delivery of effective, economical vaccines and other remedies to cure and ultimately prevent these diseases.
John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development.
Junior De O’Tobo, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.
Act Now to view the Third WHO report on neglected tropical diseases.