The United Nations Report on Access to Medicines is a Public Health Hazard


(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearHealth.)

Almost one year ago, the Secretary-General of the United Nations convened a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, which is world still suffering the burden of tropical diseases (such as river blindness, sleeping sickness, leprosy, and rabies.) According to World Health Organization, people in 185 countries needed treatment for neglected tropical diseases in 2014.

In the 21st Century, such numbers are shocking. However, the panel’s would have many harmful effects on the development of new medicines that benefit patients in both the developing and developed world. Indeed, it identifies the wrong culprit in the ongoing health catastrophe in the developing world.

Rather than allow the current decentralized system of primarily private for-profit – supplemented by some government and philanthropic – funding for researching, developing, and distributing new medicines, the panel recommends governments take over this function. And not even governments acting independently, but a sort of supra-national cartel would dictate how the world’s R&D budget would be spent.

Specifically, the panel advocates that governments “negotiate global agreements on the coordination, funding, and development of health technologies.” The funding would come from “transaction taxes and other innovative financing mechanisms.” (Only a panel mostly comprised of public-sector veterans would describe tax hikes as “innovative financing.”)

The report estimates $240 billion was invested in medical R&D in 2009 and 2010, of which $144 billion was from the private sector, $72 billion from the public sector, and $24 billion from the non-profit sector. Ninety percent was from highly developed countries, especially the U.S., which the panel recognizes holds a “central position in health technology innovation.”

The purpose of a multi-lateral government cartel seizing control of this capital would be to cause a “delinkage” between R&D spending, prices and consumer costs. In other words, investors would no longer be allowed to execute business plans that channeled R&D funding to profitable therapies.

Patents, which ensure investors who develop useful drugs can have a period of market exclusivity to earn financial rewards for their effort, would be quashed in favor of arbitrary political decisions about R&D and prices. Blaming patents for developing countries’ lack of access to medicine is wrong-headed.

In an article published earlier this year in the American Economic Review, Professor Iain Cockburn of Boston University, and colleagues, examined the timing of launches of 642 new drugs in 76 countries during 1983 through 2002. Their analysis shows price regulation delays launch, while longer and more extensive patent rights accelerate it.

In other research looking specifically at one country with weak patent protection for new medicines, Cockburn and a colleague examined when the 184 new medicines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2009 became available in India. It took more than five years for half of those drugs to become available there, after having been approved in the United States. Ten years after being launched in the U.S. or elsewhere, almost one quarter of the new medicines were still not available in India. The authors also compared when the drugs were available in other developed countries. For example, in 2010, 160 of the new medicines were available in Germany, but only 111 in India.

In any case, the World Health Organization publishes a of “essential medicines,” which it defines as “those drugs that satisfy the health care needs of the majority of the population.” Updated every two years, 95 percent of the drugs on the list are not patented. So the U.N. panel proposes to undermine the one legal protection – patents – that has proven effective at driving investment in medical R&D, even though patents are not the barrier to access.

The problem is not in the current medical R&D system. Rather, developing countries suffer from a lack of economic freedom. Economic freedom leads to income growth, which reduces the burden of many illnesses even without medical intervention. Few Americans fear infection by rabies or leprosy, because our affluence ensures we live in an environment in which outbreaks are almost impossible.

Instead of threatening investors who put their capital at risk researching and developing new medicines, the U.N. should encourage developing nations to adopt policies – including laws protecting intellectual property – that will increase their citizens’ economic freedom, incomes, and health.

Comments (5)

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  1. Lee Benham says:

    High level panel! 😂

    That usually means Ezekiel Emanuel and johanthan Gruber.

    Apparently idiots can get phd’s

  2. Ron Greiner says:

    WikiLeaks reports that people in the Middle East will be able to treat their cancer with radiation for free by simply walking out of their front door and turning to face the mushroom clouds.

    Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) predicted nuclear war in the Middle East in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

    Podesta’s email, which was released Friday by WikiLeaks along with a cache of documents from the Clinton campaign chair, was in response to a message from John Anzalone of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research that bore the subject line, “you call it.” In his email, Anzalone included a link to the BuzzFeed article and a quote from Kirk.

    “This agreement condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf,” Kirk told BuzzFeed at the time.

    “This is the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler.”

    “Yup,” Podesta said in response to the email.

    Source: Leaked Clinton Campaign Email Cites Kirk Quote on Iran Deal | NBC Chicago

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    • Ron Greiner says:

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      American arms dealer Marc Turi, in his first television interview since criminal charges against him were dropped, told Fox News that the Obama administration — with the cooperation of Hillary Clinton’s State Department — tried and failed to make him the scapegoat for a 2011 covert weapons program to arm Libyan rebels that spun out of control.

      Asked by Fox News who got the weapons — Al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, or ISIS — Turi said: “All of them, all of them, all of them.”

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      • Ron Greiner says:

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        (June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 807; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, § 330016(2)(J), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2148.)

  3. Ron Greiner says:

    The Clintons are much worse than the Rosenbergs.

    Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens who spied for the Soviet Union and were tried, convicted, and [[executed]] for conspiracy to commit espionage. They were instrumental in the transmission of information about top-secret military technology and prototypes of mechanisms related to the atomic bomb, which were of considerable value to the Soviet nuclear weapons program.

    Trump will put Hillary in an orange jumpsuit – Vote Trump