Medicines for developing countries
How an index helps people
For many people in less developed countries, gaining access to effective and affordable medicines is a problem. The Access to Medicine Foundation in the Netherlands aims to change this situation. The foundation's index evaluates the relevant activities of pharmaceutical companies on behalf of countries with developing health care systems. It is clearly having an effect.
Wim Leereveld, founder of the Access to Medicine Foundation
© Patricia Wolf
In many cases, medicines in developing countries do not have a good reputation and do not always have the desired effect. They are too expensive, have passed their expiration date, or are copies of original products. And counterfeit medicines sometimes do more damage than good.
Moreover, in most cases the people in the least developed countries, such as Somalia and the Central African Republic, have no access to medicine at all. Developing countries in the category "less developed countries," such as Ghana, are also affected by this shortage.
Involvement pays off
These problems are more complex than they initially appear, and they extend far beyond the pharmaceutical companies' area of responsibility. That's because these countries lack not only effective and affordable medicines but also other necessities: trained medical personnel who know how to administer the medicines, access to clean drinking water, and the infrastructure that is needed for distribution.
“EMD in particular has committed itself to addressing the neglected diseases.“
Founder of the Access to Medicine foundation
The Access to Medicine Foundation, which is based in the Netherlands, has therefore set itself the goal of improving access to health care in countries with developing health care systems. To reach this goal, it evaluates the involvement of the world's 20 largest pharmaceutical companies. The evaluations are published in the Access to Medicine Index.
Among other things, the index shows whether pharmaceutical companies are developing new medicines for rare diseases (also known as "orphan diseases"), the extent to which they support efforts to develop generic versions of their medicines, and the price structure of their products in developing countries. The foundation also records information about the companies' lobbying activities, marketing, ethical principles, and donated products, as well as their other charitable activities.
How schistosomiasis is transmitted
EMD: strong improvement
An updated version of the index is published every two years. In the index for 2012, EMD improved its ranking by moving up to eighth place — from 17th place in 2010. The company thus achieved the greatest improvement in the overall rankings.
The Foundation gave the following reason for its evaluation: "The improvement of EMD’s position to eighth place in this year's index is largely due to the more comprehensive information provided by the company with regard to its price structure policy, as well as its strategy and its donation programs for individual medicines." One of these projects is the EMD Praziquantel Donation Program. Ever since 2007, EMD has been supporting the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) campaign against schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease that is widespread in African countries.
About 200 million people in Africa suffer from this disease, and more than 200,000 people die every year of the consequences of this infection. Children are especially at risk of dying from this disease, which impairs growth and severely limits cognitive development. Infected individuals suffer from anemia. The disease is transmitted in standing water in which people bathe, catch fish or wash their laundry. The parasitic larvae that carry the disease bore their way into human skin, enter the blood vessels, and attack the internal organs.
Schistosomiasis can be effectively combated with praziquantel, which EMD supplies to African countries free of charge
The most effective active ingredient against schistosomiasis is praziquantel, which was developed by EMD and Bayer in the 1970s. In order to halt the expansion of this disease, EMD has decided to donate up to 250 million tablets of praziquantel annually to developing countries for an unlimited period of time. The World Health Organization is responsible for the local distribution of the medicine. In addition to donating the medicine, EMD is supporting an educational program in African schools, which informs children about the disease. By means of a comic book, the children learn about the origins of schistosomiasis and possible prevention measures.
Stefan Oschmann, Member of the EMD Executive Board
Success would make the index superfluous
EMDregards its improved ranking in the index as not only a sign of recognition for this work, but also a source of motivation to further improve its involvement. Stefan Oschmann, Member of the Executive Board, says, "Our involvement has been honored through the results of the index, which provides a measurable figure for judging EMD's overall progress in this area. We want to continue this involvement and further expand our activities to promote access to medicine in the future. In this way we want to help establish sustainable health care solutions for everyone."
The founder of the Access to Medicine Foundation, Wim Leereveld, has a number of practical tips on how to continue rising up in the rankings. "The index has a varied structure. Every area has a different ranking. For example, in the area of Patents and Licenses, EMD occupies 14th place. The company can improve its overall ranking if it makes improvements in this area," he says.
He also has an example of how to implement such a solution while at the same time reducing medicine prices in the affected countries. "For instance, if you license a patented HIV medicine for only one supplier, the price remains high. However, some companies license their medicine for several suppliers. These non-exclusive voluntary licenses reduce the price," he explains.
Leereveld believes that his goal — improving the situation in developing countries — will be achieved when the index becomes superfluous. "All of the pharmaceutical companies are working to tackle these challenges," he says. "And EMD in particular has agreed to devote itself to neglected diseases."