A bit of lateral thinking on access to medicines

June 12, 2012

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net

In an ideal world, all people should have access to all important medicines, Thomas Pogge, chair of comparative Research P(CROP), at Yale University, told the key event on Global Change and Social Transformation at the forum yesterday.

R&D should target medicines that can make the greatest difference to human health and the money spent on medicines should be ploughed back into R&D.

What we have now is a system in which the poorest people can’t access life-saving medicine because of high prices based on return of profits; little R&D geared towards medicines for the poor, such as neglected diseases; and vast amounts of money are spent on advertising, instead of further R&D, Pogge said.

The patent regime set out in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in which countries had to sign up to a Western model of intellectual property rights, is partly to blame he said.

But, he offered a solution: a Health Impact Fund (HIF). This fund could work alongside the TRIPS agreement and allow innovators and companies to earn money even on drugs that would not make a a profit through sales.

The idea is that pharma companies holding patents could register their products with the HIF and then sell them globally at production costs.

The HIF would then evaluate the health impact of registered drugs annually, and distribute payments from the fund – coming from governments and donors – to firms based on the impact of each drug. So the more lives your drug saves the bigger amount of money you would get from the fund.

The HIF would foster the development of new high-impact medicines, and the incentives would be greatest for treatments of diseases concentrated among the poor.

“This system … could also work in other areas, for example in key new technologies and agriculture,” Pogge concluded.

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This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

Who networks the networks?

October 5, 2010

Networks can be hard to visualise

As a journalist, I have a natural aversion to the abstract groupings that increasingly dominate international science. I cringe when I read about “virtual centres”. A centre has walls, to my mind.

I don’t struggle with networks so much. It makes sense that a network is simply people who talk to each other on a regular basis, and who collaborate in more or less formal ways. But this afternoon, things got more confusing.

Africa has networks coming out of its ears. They are managed by international donors (like RISE), continental organisation like the African Union, or some simply spring up naturally when scientists in a particular field want to work closely together.

Every now and then sponsors of the same type of network go ‘uh-oh’ and start to worry about doing the same thing. But this isn’t really a major issue, as long as there is some form of relationship between the networks. For example, one of the RISE networks has recruited students who received their previous training through another network.

There are other ways networks could collaborate. Travel is expensive in Africa, so networks could pool their resources for training in areas like proposal writing, intellectual property rights and research management. The other good thing about networks is that they are flexible, and can evolve to suit changing circumstances.

The resulting collaborations will be hard to visualise, however. A network of networks? You might need a maths degree…

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

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