Healthcare: At a Glance - Access to drugs in the developing world

You're referring to the Department for International Development initiative?

Yes, DFID was in the media spotlight last week as it unveiled a new framework document to help UK pharma companies improve the availablity of drugs to counter HIV/Aids, TB and malaria in the developing world.

What comms issues does this raise for the drugs firms?

DFID has called for greater transparency of policies and pricing. It says that some firms provide information about their policies on websites, but many do not make such information accessible.

What other stakeholders are involved?

Groups such as VSO, Christian Aid, and Medecins Sans Frontieres are lobbying for drugs to be made more widely available. The DFID also quotes a 2003 report from The Pharmaceutical Shareowners Group on company responses to the lack of access to medicines in developing countries and is quite open about highlighting strategic reasons for pharma firms to take action.

Such as what?

Risk of reputational damage, undermined intellectual property regimes and loss of market share if they are not seen to be contributing to efforts to boost access to essential medicines.

So does the Government want companies to make gifts of drugs?

It is keener on more sustainable policies, particularly the idea of lowering prices in these markets. For example, GlaxoSmithKline sells its Aids medicines and antimalarials at not-for-profit prices to public sector customers and other organisations in 64 countries, including all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Is the Government saying the pharma industry has to improve its act?

Not in so many words. The framework document is at pains to mention the 'good work being done by many pharmaceutical companies'. It simply suggests there is a need to go further.

What's the scale of the problem?

In 2002 there were almost six million deaths from HIV and Aids, TB and malaria, but the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2015 more than 10.5 million lives could be saved every year by increasing health intervention.

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