Monday, January 02, 2012

Affordable Medications and the Millennium Development Goals

The humanitarian organization Medicins sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders (MSF) posted a great article at the end of 2011, entitled Ten Stories that Mattered in Access to Medicines in 2011. The article was part of MSF's effort to boost availability of medications through its Access Campaign.  The affordability of medications is a key element in the fight against global poverty.  Health is an important aspect of three of the Millennnium Development Goals: Child Health, Maternal Health, and Combat HIV/AIDS.

A major obstacle to meeting these goals has been the high price of medications charged by multinational pharmaceutical companies.  A handful of companies and organizations in middle-income countries like India and Brazil have stepped up to offer affordable medications, but they have faced battles with the multinational companies, which cite a right to "protect intelletual property."

Photo: Bruno de Cock for MSF
Much of the price war has occurred behind the scenes.  But the MSF article notes that a milestone development occurred in 2011.
The fight for more affordable vaccines for children in developing countries was boosted this year when UNICEF - for the first time - published the prices it pays for all the vaccines it buys.

This move revealed huge price disparities in what different companies are charging for similar vaccines.

For instance, the drug company Crucell, is charging UNICEF nearly forty percent more than the Serum Institute of India for its pentavalent vaccine that protects children against five diseases in one shot.

There’s been no price transparency until now over vaccine prices and purchasers have had no benchmark figures on which to negotiate the best deal. Now the information is public, competing vaccine manufacturers are likely to drive prices down, meaning that more children can be immunised against life-threatening diseases.
Transparency on the price of medications was one important development.  But there were other milestones (mostly setbacks) in the effort to address global health concerns that affect children, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, Chagas disease and cryptococcal meningitis. 

“For the diseases our medical teams encounter every day in places where we work, 2011 was a year of both critical progress and dangerous backsliding,” said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “At a time of so much promise, it is crucial to continue pushing forward, and refuse to accept a double standard in care between rich and poor countries.”

  Read More

And of course, there is the ever-present issue malnutrition.  Here's what MSF said about developments in 2011.
The emergency response to the Horn of Africa crisis shows the quality of nutritional programmes in emergency situations is at least improving: the food aid provided in the refugee camps did contain the nutrient-dense foods adapted to children’s nutritional needs.
However emergencies – while attention-grabbing – are only part of a much larger story of on-going childhood malnutrition that occurs outside the media spotlight in areas like South Asia and Africa.
Providing nutritious food to young children is the cornerstone of every attempt to fight malnutrition in both rich and developing countries. In 2010, MSF witnessed a reduction by half in the mortality among children in Niger who received nutrient-dense foods as part of supplementary feeding programmes. Niger has undertaken large-scale distributions of supplementary foods for children under two at risk of malnutrition in both 2010 and 2011.
With a new year ahead of us, here's hoping that developments in global health in 2012 are more positive than negative.

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