|Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.||
News: Weekly Archives
News for the week of 07-06-2006
New AIDS Pill to Treat People in Poor Countries
The FDA has approved a new generic triple combination AIDS drug to be used as part of President Bush's initiative against AIDS in the Third World.
After a wave of initial criticism, the program has alleviated activist concerns that the president's program would be a financial boon for American drug companies and yet fall short of providing needed treatments for victims of the AIDS virus in the world's poorest nations. The program has used generic drugs while at the same time insisting that the drugs pass through an expedited FDA approval process.
At the time, many Bush administration critics feared the money would be reserved for expensive American and European brandname drugs. But, defying those expectations, the program in May 2004 began buying generics and now pays for 24 generic formulations, including liquid solutions for infants. Also, the major Western companies dropped their prices for poor countries, sometimes as low as the prices of generics.
Critics should not, however, focus too much on the perceived shortcomings of the FDA process. In late 2004, the WHO withdrew seven generic drugs after key documents purporting to show their effectiveness were shown to be inadequate. The expedited FDA approval process ensures that these newly released drugs will reach poorer victims without the threat of sudden withdrawal.
Doctors Group Declares War on Drug Ads
The American Medical Association recently called on the FDA to enforce stricter regulations on direct to consumer drug advertising, which they insist causes patients to pressure doctors into prescribing unnecessary or expensive medicines. The AMA proposed a waiting period before direct to consumer advertising can begin during which doctors could investigate the drugs and their potential benefits and sideeffects:
"Doctors just want to make sure they have a chance to get up to speed on new drugs before the patients are being urged to seek these medications because of heavy advertising," said Dr. Ron Davis, the association's presidentelect. The ads can disrupt the patientdoctor relationship and contribute to rising healthcare costs when patients insist on receiving new, more expensive drugs, said Davis, who works in the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
Although the AMA insisted that direct-to-consumer advertising increases pressure on doctors to prescribe unnecessary medicines, FDA studies have shown that although doctors report that patients ask more questions about heavily advertised drugs, doctors also believe that patient interest creates a better doctor patient relationship. Studies also show that over half of doctors did not feel at all pressured to prescribe the requested medicine and when the drug was prescribed it was the best option for treatment of the patient’s condition.
Global Vaccine Initiative Hits Snag
Political wrangling threatens to hold back a plan by G–8 governments to stimulate new vaccine production by pharmaceutical companies. This article provides a good look into the economic issues and political actors involved in the effort to create "advance purchase commitments" for vaccines where market incentives may be weak. These issues are expected to come to a head during the upcoming G–8 conference, where three new drug–finance plans are expected to be debated.
G-8 officials say that drug companies, although initially skeptical, have rallied behind the idea. "They're ready to give this a go," said the official familiar with the G–8 discussions.
Fighting Diseases with Checkbooks
This recent New York Times article examines the benefits and potential pitfalls of medical research funded by private individuals. Warning against too much private discretion over research funds, the article argues that public or international research institutions can better determine fund allocation and research areas.
Wealthy individuals, through their philanthropies and the causes they support, like Michael R. Milken for prostate cancer and Michael J. Fox for Parkinson's disease, are a growing force behind medical research these days.
Although the Times article advocates greater control of research and funding by international governmental organizations, it fails to note the downsides of these groups. Privately run funds can be more efficient and more determined, because they have to answer to their donors for the efficiency of their projects and administration. It is much harder to evaluate governmental groups like the WHO or the USAID, who tend to operate through opaque bureaucracies. A recent article by Roger Bate, sheds light on the problems of internationally run government groups. Bate castigates the World Bank’s efforts to eliminate malaria, which have been inefficient and unsuccessful—and have cost countless lives. Any private institution with that track record would have been subject to relentless media criticism, if not legal prosecution.
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