Global Health Impact: Extending Access on Essential Medicines to the Global Poor
Every year 9 million people are diagnosed with tuberculosis, every day more than 13,400 people are infected with AIDs, every 30 seconds malaria kills a child. About a third of all deaths, 18 million a year are poverty-related. Most of the world’s health problems afflict the global poor. One reason for this is that the poor cannot access many of the existing drugs and technologies they need. Another is that little of the research and development on new drugs and technologies benefits the poor.
To address these problems, Academics Stand Against Poverty is supporting a proposal for rating pharmaceutical companies on the basis of their drugs’ global health impact. The best companies, in a given year, will then be given a Global Health Impact label to use on all their products–everything from lip balm to pet vitamins.
Although this will not solve all of the problems poor people face, it may help them secure some of the things they often lack—in particular, access to life-saving medicines, like antibiotics or HIV drugs. This proposal will also encourage companies to do research on and create new medicines like malaria or HIV vaccines. The key to a successful Global Health Impact campaign is designing a good rating system for companies’ efforts to promote global health. So, researchers at Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and SUNY Binghamton are trying to construct a rating system that evaluates companies on the basis of their drugs’ impact on global health. To evaluate this impact, researchers are considering three things:
- The need for several important drugs for diseases that primarily affect the global poor.
- The drugs’ effectiveness.
- The number of people who can access the drugs.
Each company will be rated on how the drugs it produces measure up in these three categories. The company’s score will be the sum of its drugs’ impacts.
Highly rated companies will have an incentive to use the label to get a larger share of the market. If Pfizer, for example, were a highly rated company it might use a Global Health Impact label on Advil. If even a small percentage of consumers or doctors preferred Global Health Impact products, the benefits of using this label could be significant. The market for over-the-counter painkillers alone is worth approximately US$2 billion per year. Insurance companies (both public and private) might even include Global Health Impact drugs in their formularies. Global Health Impact certified companies could also use the label on their full range of products. If consumption of Global Health Impact goods reached one percent of the market in generic and over the-counter medications, that will create about $360 million-worth of incentives for pharmaceutical companies to become Global Health Impact certified by expanding access to effective medicines needed by the global poor. Further, socially responsible investment companies could include Global Health Impact companies in their portfolios.
Finally, having a Global Health Impact certification system for pharmaceutical companies would open the door to all kinds of fruitful social activism including boycotts of poorly rated companies, lobbying of insurance companies to include Global Health Impact products in their formularies, and so forth. One possibility is a Global Health Impact licensing campaign. Pharmaceutical companies rely, to a large extent, on university research and development. So, if universities allow only certified companies to benefit from their technology, companies will have an incentive to abide by Global Health Impact standards. Just one percent of the university research and technology market is worth some $840 million, which is more than the cost of developing a new drug, even under the highest estimates. This level of incentives might double the number of drugs produced for neglected diseases. In short, the Global Health Impact certification system gives companies a reason to produce drugs that will save millions of lives.