In an increasingly globalised world, and despite fierce competition with considerable R&D and patenting costs, the Pharmaceutics industry (Pharma) has been particularly successful with several major companies being amongst the highest capitalised and profitable in the world. These organisations are commercial, for-profits, also major employers with facilities and commercial presence, worldwide.
They are also international healthcare providers who recognise their responsibilities to their wide range of stakeholders. This is evidenced by numerous acts of benevolence and demonstrations of civic responsibility, such as: support for charitable programmes, establishment of Foundations and more general acts of CSR. They also have commitments to drug discovery and development programmes targeting the eradication of tropical diseases, past and present.
Examples of the former include, but are not limited to:
1. Merck establishing a charitable foundation and voluntary donations of free drugs to eradicate river blindness in Africa. They also pay for the annual distribution and administration of this drug.
2. Glaxo-Smith-Kline’s free drug donations to the World Health Organisation (WHO), leading to elimination of the tropical disease, Lymphatic Filariasis (Elephantiasis).
3. Glaxo-Smith-Kline removing its patent restrictions to facilitate cheap production of its drugs in developing economies.
4. The Access to Medicine programme in developing economies, free drug donations for tropical diseases (e.g. Malaria, Leprosy, Tuberculosis) and responsive humanitarian aid by Novartis.
5. Pfizer-Bayern’s free and subsidised continuing drug programme for AIDS support in South Africa.
6. Gilead waiving its patent protection to facilitate cheap local production of Remdesivir to combat the current Covid-19 virus in developing economies.
7. Astra-Zeneca selling their Covid-19 vaccine at production cost with no recovery charge for development costs.
8. Overall commitment by the major Pharma companies to participate in the US Prescription Assistance Programs (PAPs)
The CEO for Merck argued: “ [ … ] medicine is for the people” and, more specifically; “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. How can we bring the best medicine to each and every person? We cannot rest until we help to bring our finest achievements to everyone”.
It is assume that this philosophical position is the driving force that has led to the above acts of beneficence by major Pharma companies.
International governments have further imposed a supportive and beneficent position on the pharmaceutics industry. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade -Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement that drugs can be patented restricted developing and poorer countries in purchasing or producing essential drugs.
The Doha Declaration, subsequent Cancun Ministerial Conference and further WTO/International government subcommittees have formally relaxed this restriction for local drug production and extended the option of parallel importation under compulsory licences.
These developments have implications for responding to the current SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) coronavirus pandemic. There are several vaccines for this virus that are currently being produced and dispensed in the developed economies.
The outstanding moral question is what responsibilities do the developed economies and, particularly, the financially secure Pharma companies have to individuals from these developing and poorer countries in the global South? These economies may have mechanisms to produce a suitable vaccine but do not have the finances or experienced operatives, locally, to produce to the quality or quantities required. Perhaps of greater importance, most do not have the infrastructures to access and also dispense the vaccines to their entire populations.
Several G8 governments have already guaranteed to contribute substantial monies to fund humanitarian aid to those states unable to implement appropriate vaccination programmes. Several have also committed to contributing surplus drugs to these states. However, this highlights the major problem as virtually all production is currently under contract and targeted for these and other financially secure economies.
You are to:
1. Research the current pandemic situation in the developing and poorer economies and also provide a brief description of this and what provision will be needed to protect their populations..[10%].
2. Further, identify and critically evaluate the issue-relatedand context-related factors that will impact on the ethical decision making that:
i. The Pharmaceutical companies
ii. Governments in the developed economies
will need to make.[60%]
3. Finally, discuss what ethics theories underpin each of these ethical decisions.
Chauncey, D, Mullins, C.D., Tran, B.V., McNally, D., McEwan, R.N. (2006). Medication access through patient assistance programs, American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 63(13): 780-784.