Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Reality Check: Focus on Rx Prices a “Red Herring” and Invisible Children

This blog is largely about documenting various solutions, how technology can/is being used, and innovation in global health. However, it is good to be reminded of the realities on the ground and in some cases the extreme circumstances that some people are facing. This came to mind when I ran into the two different examples below. First, there was a news story earlier this month about scientists who had figured out a way to slash drug development costs by re-designing drugs, which they have dubbed the “ethical pharmaceutical” model. I encourage you to read further details at BBC (Medicines patent loophoole found) and the two articles published by the Guardian (article 1, article 2). Hat tip goes to emednews for this find and the article below. Following up on the ethical pharmaceutical model, there is a scathing rebuttal of this idea published over at, that presents another perspective. The tone is over the top, but it is good to see debate and discussion of the elephant in the room – health system infrastructure:

‘Ethical’ Drugs’ Miss Heart of Matter
January 8, 2007
“Last week, scientists at Imperial College, London, gave us “ethical pharmaceuticals”, claiming they will slash drug prices and save poor countries from disease. But this is more about salving western consciences than helping the poor…the philanthropic pharmacists are chasing a red herring. The price of medicines is only of marginal relevance to health care in poor countries.”

“Access to even basic medicines in India remains unacceptably low. Children go without routine vaccinations. Simple off-patent anti-infectives are unavailable to the majority of the rural poor. Despite pumping out cheap generic AIDS drugs for years, a paltry 12000 of India’s 5-million AIDS sufferers were getting the drugs at the end of last year.”

“For the Indian poor, the price of drugs is not the issue. The real issue is the state of their health-care infrastructure. The government-run system is a shambles, riddled with inefficiency and corruption and lacking resources. The transport network is so bad that rural people struggle to get to a clinic, if there is one. Meanwhile, dirty water and cooking fuels exact a terrible toll of disease on the poor. What people need are hospitals, clinics, doctors and nurses. Without them, you can give drugs away for free and they still won’t get to the most needy.

Full Article. One might argue that drug prices are significant because if the prices of various medical supplies can be reduced, it may create an economy that will indeed bit by bit generate pieces of infrastructure that is needed (clinics, storefronts, etc.). This is somewhat of a stretch and I would like to see a good example of where this might be happening and I will have to investigate the Health Store Foundation to see what their impact has been. There is an additional issue of giving away free drugs, which has certainly been debated before as being detrimental because of long term sustainability issues and also because it can cannabilize any sort of market that might have been. Hopefully I will have time to discuss a few more examples regarding this issue…


I spotted the other reminder of on the ground realities over at 500 hats regarding a recent documentary about children caught in the war in Northern Uganda. More on the movie, Invisible Children can be found here, with a short clip below. There is a 1 hour version on google video and here is the trailer. A description is as follows:

“In the spring of 2003, three young Americans traveled to Africa in search of such as story. What they found was a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them. A story where children are weapons and children are the victims. The “Invisible Children: rough cut” film exposes the effects of a 20 year-long war on the children of Northern Uganda. These children live in fear of abduction by rebel soldiers, and are being forced to fight as a part of violent army. This wonderfully reckless documentary is fast paced, with an MTV beat, and is something truly unique. To see Africa through young eyes is humorous and heart breaking, quick and informative – all in the very same breath. See this film, you will be forever changed.”

Based on the above two pieces, it would be nice to finish this post on a more inspirational note, check out another documentary, Lusaka Sunrise, on using sports to educate youth about HIV/AIDS:

A couple of organizations that are using sports include Grass Roots Soccer and the well known, Carolina for Kibera, which I believe orginally started with soccer/futbol to also educate youth about HIV/AIDS.

Written by Aman

January 16, 2007 at 9:08 pm

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  1. […] by Aman on May 31st, 2007 It is time for another reality check (I post these occasionally). I try to focus the blog on solutions, ideas, and how various sectors/disciplines are impacting […]

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