The Health Impact Fund – a Chance for the Poor?

As I already once have mentioned, a great challenge for the development aid efforts is to create incentives for the pharmaceutical corporations to research on medicines that are really needed. Unfortunately, most of the pharmaceutical products developed are cosmetics. According to the WHO, only less than 1% of what is being developed are medicines against tropical diseases. But there are millions of people in the developing world dying and suffering from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria etc. Either there are no new, potent medicines against these diseases, or, if there are (as in the case of AIDS), they are too costly due to patent rights.

But there are initiatives with the aim to change that. One of them is the Health Impact Fund project.

The project was created by the German-American philosopher Thomas Pogge, in its advisory board you can find people like the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen or Peter Singer, another famous ethicist, both dedicated to finding ways to help poor people in the world.

The aim of the project is to create a globally operating fund, the Health Impact Fund. According to Pogge, the costs would be about $6 billion per annum – which is not really much (about 0,03% of GDP of the richest third of the world economies).

The idea is to reward producers of life-saving pharmaceuticals (the development of new medicines is highly costly, an often named estimation is $800 million per product). In return, they would commit to sell the product in consideration worldwide at cost (while also permitting the production of generics). The height of the reward would depend on the effectiveness of the particular medicine.

Working with leading health care assessment organizations such as the George Institute for International Health, NICE International, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Incentives for Global Health will perform evaluations of the health impact of products in a variety of countries. The HIF would expand assessment beyond pre-approval clinical trials, using epidemiological data from actual usage, practical trials, physician surveys, and patient demographics, as modifiers to the core health impact assessment.

The idea is simple, works with economic incentives and doesn’t really cost much (thus the interest from many developed countries, but from China and India as well). There are some issues to be cleared (some NGOs are critical about the possibility for the producers to keep their patent rights, just relinquishing the monopoly), but by and large the proposal seems to have great potential to help people in poor countries who are suffering from often curable diseases.

[This post is based on and inspired by an article in the German taz: “Medizin auch für die Ärmsten”.]

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