Developing World

Public health and company wealth

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7402.1296 (Published 12 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1296
  1. Nathan Ford (nathan.ford@london.msf.org), access to medicines adviser1
  1. 1 Médecins Sans Frontières, London EC1N 8QX

    “The doctor's role goes from caregiver to undertaker. You talk to them about the cheapest method of burial. Telling them about the drugs is always kind of a cruel joke,” said Dr Chris Ouma of Kenya, where 2.5 million people are infected with HIV, and most cannot afford AIDS drugs

    Introduction

    Millions of people in the developing world are dying because they cannot access the medicines they need. This made international headlines during the World Trade Organisation's meeting in Seattle in December 1999.1 The high price of AIDS drugs became a banner of the world's iniquities: on one side of the globe, Western multinationals made billions of dollars; on the other side, millions of people suffered and died of treatable infectious diseases. For decades the pharmaceutical industry was the Golden Boy of Wall Street. By the end of the 1990s it began to acquire a new reputation, featuring as the villain of spy novels (like John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener2) and Hollywood blockbusters (like Mission Impossible II). The industry has responded to growing public criticism by reducing some drug prices for some countries. From company boardrooms, it might seem that many sacrifices have been made. But few patients in developing countries are aware of these efforts. Progress in reducing drug prices has depended mostly on market competition …

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