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Nonprofit Pharmaceuticals and OneWorld Health
Alex Steffen, 5 Aug 06

We've written before about orphan diseases, and about new nonprofit models for doing pharmaceutical research. This story about the Institute for OneWorld Health, a little nonprofit that may well cure black fever -- an ailment which kills 500,000 people every year -- brilliantly illustrates why humanitarian science on open principles matters:

PATNA, India — The drug that could have cured Munia Devi through a series of cheap injections was identified decades ago but then died in the research pipeline because there was no profit in it.
So Mrs. Devi lay limp in a hospital bed here recently, her spleen and liver bulging from under her rib cage as a bilious yellow liquid dripped into her thin arm. The treatment she was receiving can be toxic, and it costs $500. But it was her best hope to cure black fever, a disease known locally as kala azar, which kills an estimated half-million people worldwide each year, almost all of them poor like Mrs. Devi.
Soon, however, all that may change. A small charity based in San Francisco has conducted the medical trials needed to prove that the drug is safe and effective. Now it is on the verge of getting final approval from the Indian government. A course of treatment with the drug is expected to cost just $10, and experts say it could virtually eliminate the disease. If approval is granted as expected this fall, it will be the first time a charity has succeeded in ushering a drug to market.

These approaches are brilliant and needed. The fact is that much of the human suffering in the world is unneccessary. We know how to cure or prevent many of the maladies afflicting people, from malaria to malnutition, and we have the capacity to invent cures or preventative measures for the rest. Those these efforts are expensive, we can afford them

The mere fact we can alleviate suffering is, to my mind, sufficient argument for doing so; but there are other arguments as well. Some have to do with realizing that one a small, globalized planet, public health is of neccessity a global enterprise. Some have to do with the fact that hunger and disease are major drags on the economies of many developing nations, and that if we want a sustainable future for those nations (and again, on a small planet, no future which leaves out large groups of people will last very long), we need to help their people find health. Finally, we don't know what unexpected benefits this research may bring: opening new routes for medical research along these lines may well provide public domain benefits for everyone.

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Oneworldhealth org lead by Dr. Victoria Hale is the harbinger of the ideal way to organize health care in general and please stay away from simplistic labels.

The use of the word 'Charity' to describe the work of non profit institutes gives a misleading view of what is ideal for public good.

At its most basic form, society is a collection of folks who jointly decide what common institutional activities (non profit) they will support in order to promote the well being, safety and prosperity of (all of) the individual members. Examples are defense, roads, postal services, the army corps of Engineers etc. This of course is the ideal and in all human history, the founding of America with its wonderful constitution is as close to the ideal as it can get. Remarkable as the constitution is even when viewed with the hind sight of 230 years, it left some holes in terms of foriegn policy as well as how institutions for common good are to be organized. Jefferson et al did the right thing in leaving the decisions in the hands of "Americans yet to be born". Well folks, that's us.

With the above background, the case in point is the use of the word charity to describe a fabulous non-profit org to create drugs "at cost" that directly promotes the well being and safety of humanity. The opposite organization of 'for profit' pharmaceuticals and the health insurance companies, on the other hand, adversly affect the well being of ALL Americans, even the wealthy as well as the rest of the world.

When every dollar that an insurance company pays out reduces their profit by that dollar, it is farcical that I should trust them to pay for my "proper" care when the need arises. When the goal of a pharmaceutical is unbridled profit and with legislation in the US protecting them in charging whatever they deem 'necessary' (not what the market can bear in a competitive environment), it is again farcical to expect them to worry about an individual's well being. With doctors working as their little poodles and fully on the take, and priscriptions rquired by law, ALL Americans all held hostage to a monopolistic nexus that make the mafia look like our friendly neighborhood night club bouncers.

Forgive me for reacting strongly to the use of the word 'charity' when pharmaceuticals in general should be non-profits to begin with. If it is USA Today or Fox news using the word, it is perfectly understandable, but

But Alex, thank you for bringing this up.

Posted by: Subbarao Seethamsetty on 6 Aug 06

Um, the New York Times called OneWorld charity, not me.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 6 Aug 06

this article reminded me on a domestic issue just presented:

showing at least the positive benefits of treating health more as a concern rather than a commodity.

Posted by: anonymouse on 7 Aug 06



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