NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Vaccines Needed, Not Drugs

June 1, 2001

Pharmaceutical companies' agreement to lower the prices of some anti-AIDS drugs will provide little relief to the vast majority of Africans with AIDS.

They live in countries with governments unable to buy the drugs even at reduced prices. And even if the drugs were free, widespread use would be difficult because the drugs require complicated regimens of dosage and control.

The best long-run solution for AIDS and other infectious diseases in poor countries is vaccines, which are relatively easy to deliver and can be used by large numbers of people at low cost. Vaccines are needed for:

  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which newly infected more than five million people last year, 70 percent of them in Africa.
  • Tuberculosis, which kills 1.7 million people a year and is spreading in drug-resistant forms.
  • Malaria, which kills one million a year, mostly infants, toddlers and pregnant women.

Drug companies undertake little research on diseases that primarily affect poor countries because they see little chance of recouping their costs.

A task force established by British Prime Minister Tony Blair has proposed that the industrialized nations stimulate research by committing to purchase effective vaccines, when they are developed, for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

Source: Michael Kremer (Brookings Institution) and Rachel Glennerster (Harvard University), "Creating a Market for Vaccines," New York Times, June 1, 2001.


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