NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bad Medicine

January 21, 2004

United Nations-led efforts to treat malaria victims in Africa have actually increased the number of deaths, reports the Lancet, a British medical journal. The U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, which was set up in 2002 to finance prevention programs, are accused of using treatments that they know to be ineffective.

According to the Lancet:

  • The aid agencies have continued to recommend off-patent drugs chloroquine and SP, which once worked but began failing in the 1970s as the parasite developed resistance.
  • The most effective malaria treatments available today are Artemesinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), patented drugs that not only clear parasites from the blood more quickly but also reduce the chances that drug resistance will develop.

Activist groups like WHO and the Global Fund frown on patent laws and would rather employ off-patent medicines or cheap knockoffs produced in places like India and Argentina. The tragedy is that this aversion to enriching companies like Novartis and GSK that produce effective treatments endangers tens of thousands of lives, says the Wall Street Journal.

The United States is by far the world's largest single donor to the fight against AIDS in the Third World. Americans also fund the world's drug research, and it makes little sense for us to give money to anti-patent organizations that would undermine the property laws and protections that lead to new and better therapies, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "WHO's Bad Medicine," Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2004; based upon Amir Attaran et al., "WHO, the Global Fund, and medical malpractice in malaria treatment," Lancet, January 17, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB107464422387507052,00.html


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