March 15, 2005

Priorities in healthcare

Dismaying statistics from a newsletter article from the Wharton School of Business:

Of 1,400 drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, only 25 are
targeted to diseases of the developing world

Seven million infants die each year, mostly in the developing world, and half those deaths could be prevented with vaccines that exist in rich nations

More than $100 billion is spent each year on medical research, but just 10% of that goes to diseases that account for 90% of the world's illnesses

I am all for capitalism, but it has to be balanced with a concern for humanity. The profit motive is a great incentive for companies to invest money in researching new drugs and providing health care services. However, when the drive for profit outweighs the concern for the common good, something needs to change. Drug and healthcare companies have a right to make a profit, but they also have a responsibility towards the common good. To the extent they shirk that responsibility, I believe governments need to step in to make sure the common good is promoted. This could mean that profits are regulated - such as limiting profits to a 'cost-plus' formula - one that is used in a number of government contracts. Or it could mean that a certain percentage of a company's portfolio is dedicated to serving the poor.

When less than 2% of the drugs the FDA has approved are intended for diseases in the developing world, when 3.5 million children could be saved if only they had access to vaccines, and when 90% of the money goes towards 10% of the diseases, then something has to change - for the good of all people.