From the June 20, 2008 Financial Times
June 20, 2008
by Jeremiah Norris
Sir, Wim Leereveld (reports, June 16) has started an interesting and potentially important metric to judge how pharmaceutical companies are making drugs available and affordable to the poor. His Access to Medicines index says that GSK leads the pack in this regard. It isn't obvious from his methodology whether he has been able to separate monetary value of products from their clinical value, or to ascertain how product donations spurned significant financial leverage from other actors.
For instance, Merck is ranked number 3. It has been contributing Ivermectin to combat river blindness for the past 20 years. The product itself is fairly inexpensive and is administered once yearly. Yet, it produces a clinical value to millions of people by preventing blindness. Once the corporate contribution was made, the World Bank syndicated it among a wide array of donors, investing at least $250m in the process. Another indirect benefit is that, according to a Bank evaluation, when farmers returned to their previously abandoned river villages, 17m hectares of land were reclaimed, enough to feed 25m people. The index states that companies score "least strongly for researching neglected diseases". GSK has been a leader in this arena, building a $235m research and development facility in Spain to develop products identified by the World Health Organisation as "essential medicines" for the poor. Novartis has built a tropical disease research institute in Singapore, targeting only malaria, TB and chagas disease. It recently built a vaccine institute in Italy to work on neglected diseases. Pfizer constructed an Infectious Disease Institute in Uganda. It has now trained 40 per cent of the country's physicians in Aids treatment and care. At present, 24 countries have sent staff to this institute for similar training. In these research facilities, the operating costs have by now far exceeded the capital costs.
However difficult, Mr Leereveld would want to strengthen his methodology in the future. This would allow a more comprehensive comparison between companies. They could then better position themselves and, measure for measure, determine where they really stand in the rankings on corporate social responsibility.
Center for Science in Public Policy,
Washington, DC 20005, US
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
Jeremiah Norris is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson Institute's Center for Science in Public Policy. He specializes in public-private partnerships in development assistance, trade and development, and global AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria policies.
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