NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 16, 2005

Pharmaceutical companies are often accused of ignoring Third World diseases because they can't charge high prices for drugs there. However, according to Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine's science correspondent, pharmaceutical companies should be lauded because they create effective treatments. Moreover, he says, it is government policies that cause harm there:

  • Tropical diseases account for only 0.5 deaths in high-mortality poor countries and only 0.3 percent of deaths in low-mortality countries.
  • Moreover, many of these diseases already have treatments and are very cheap -- thanks to large pharmaceutical companies.
  • For example, schistomiasis is treated with praziquantel for 30 cents a dose, while treatments for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis are provided free of charge by Merck & Co. and SmithKline Beecham.

Bailey points out that other diseases cause much more suffering. Nevertheless, almost all of the diseases that afflict the Third World already have effective treatments thanks to for-profit companies. Of the World Health Organization's 319 essential medicines, 90 percent were originally discovered/developed by private companies for profit.

Bailey argues that improving public policies would go a long way toward improving the health of the poor. In nearly all of the poorest countries, public expenditures on the military vastly outstrip those on health care. Finally, many countries should revise their tariff laws on medical imports. Taxes account for 55 percent of the retail cost of medicines in India, 28 percent in China, and 24 percent in Mexico.

Source: Ronald Bailey, "Do Drug Companies Kill Poor People," Reason, January 5, 2004.

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