In this op-ed Mejia-Vergnaud dismantles the myths that are allowing anti–corporate activists to control the debate over how to best provide developing nations access to better medical treatments.
In Geneva on May 22 to 27 Brazil and Kenya will ask representatives of most of the World's governments to set up a new "Global Framework on Essential Health Research and Development." They claim too little money is being invested in drugs for the diseases of poverty: their scheme would make sure this myth became reality...
At first glance, the resolution being proposed to the World Health Organization's annual "World Health Assembly" jamboree in Geneva seems unobjectionable. It starts with concerns such as "the need for appropriate, effective and safe tools for patients living in resource–poor settings" and "the urgency of developing new medicines to address emerging health threats." It is difficult to disagree with these things, which should be the main goals of medical R&D: creating new products that address unmet needs.
But much of the proposal seems to be driven more by ideology than reason. It complains that some 70 percent of all—new drugs offer little benefit over older ones—a claim that ignores the actual nature of product development, which proceeds not in a series of bangs but in a continuous process of improvement and refinement.
With this false premise, it is hardly surprising that the proposal envisages a very different future for medical R&D. Under the new "Global Framework," priorities and parameters of medical research and development would be defined by a new bureaucratic agency, not by the real needs of patients.
The resolution says member–states should make health and medicines a "strategic sector." Such words are all the justification populist governments need to confiscate and overregulate. Bolivia recently claimed that oil and gas were "strategic sectors." Then the troops came in. Brazil has already threatened to ignore the patent on any drug it deems "essential."
The "Global Framework" fundamentally misdiagnoses the problems faced by the poor, claiming the market has left the poor without treatments for their myriad diseases. In reality, the vast majority of the diseases of poverty can be treated with existing, cheap, off–patent drugs. While there remain some diseases, such as leishmaniasis, that lack adequate cures, these kill far fewer people than diarrhea, chest infections and malaria, for which treatments exist. The real problem is getting existing medicines to those in need—a problem the "Global Framework" does not even acknowledge.