FREE DRUGS FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

In 1998 the UK firm SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKlike) launched a scheme to provide free drugs to help in eradicating the tropical disease Lymphatic Filariasis (commonly known as elephantiasis) by 2020. The disease, which causes a swelling of the limbs and genitals by up to three times their normal size, affects 120 million people a year and poses a threat to a fifth of the world's population. In lauching the scheme, the company explained that it 'was donating the drug as part of its corporate philosophy to help communities in which it worked and traded.' This particular programme costs the company some £ 500 mil (Euro 750 mil) to produce the drug and another £ 500 mil in distribution. The Financial Times hailed the decision as 'the single biggest act of corporate philanthropy in any industry'.

Philanthropy, however, is not always as easy as simply donating drugs – as SmithKline Beecham's future merger partner Glaxo Wellcome had discovered in 2002. At that time, pharmaceutical giant Glaxo had just taken over Wellcome, a smaller manufacturer with a tradition of developing drugs for tropical diseases. The new owners dicovered that Wellcome had just developed Malaron, a very effective drug against malaria, a disease that still kills around 1 million people in Africa every year.

Like Merck before them. Glaxo therefore decided not to market Malaron. Third. but to donate it for free. health authorities in African countries were very suspicious of a such a 'donation' and saw it as part of an experiment. they had just given away about a hundred! 1 mil 100 There were several reasons. when even one million treatments were not enough for all affected people? . instead of handing out the proposed one million doses. or as a trick to hook them on the substance and then to introduce a fee at a later stage. After three years. as one Glaxo manager put it. though. First. while the potential market in Africa accounted for just 1% of global pharmaceutical sales. 'malaria simply isn't a commercial opportunity for a big research-based company'. The costs of developing and producing Malaron were astronomical.However. let alone tackle the risk of theft and black market trade. it proved to be extremely difficult to integrate such an expensive drug into a health system of a poor country. a global donation of one million doses put the World Health Organization (Glaxo's partner in the scheme) into a serious distribution problem: what was the most just and efficient way of distributing the drugs. Second.

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