NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 4, 2008

Western activists continue to blame the high price of drugs for AID's continued prevalence in Africa.  They argue that poor countries should be permitted to break pharmaceutical patents to produce cheap knock-off versions at home.  Unfortunately, the activists are not just wrong; their policy proposal is flat-out dangerous.  The real causes of restricted access to AIDS drugs are Africa's derelict transportation systems, widespread corruption and poor utility infrastructure, says Thompson Ayodele, an executive director of Initiative for Public Policy Analysis.

Most of the high-quality AIDS drugs that Africa imports have to be transported over vast distances and stored for extended periods of time before they can be distributed.  But the roads and warehouses in most African countries are poorly maintained.  Electricity, needed to keep drugs refrigerated, is scarce.  Corrupt officials often exploit weaknesses in the supply chain, and extort hefty bribes from aid personnel, explains Ayodele.

  • In 2001, African leaders pledged to invest 15 percent of their budgets in health-care infrastructure; seven years later, very few have come even close to meeting that commitment.
  • Nigeria, for example, devotes less than 6 percent of its budget to health.
  • Most of Africa's impoverished people still lack health insurance; medical workers earn low wages, which has led to low morale and a dearth of qualified personnel.
  • The National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwifes says the country's hospitals urgently need 300,000 additional nurses.

The trade policies of African governments often make the AIDS problem worse, says Ayodele:

  • Generic drugs imported into Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are subject to a 10 percent tariff.
  • The rate jumps to 40 percent in Sierra Leone, and to 50 percent in Kenya.
  • Nigeria charges an import tariff of up to 39 percent.

Giving African governments the power to locally manufacture patent-protected pharmaceuticals will likely result in patients receiving low-quality drugs, says Ayodele.  In Thailand and India, for example, locally produced Aids drugs are often of such low quality that they're actually fueling drug resistance.

Source: Thompson Ayodele, "Dangerous AIDS Policy; Drug patents are not the problem," Wall Street Journal (Europe), November 30, 2008.

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