A moral argument for fighting diseases of the poor

Rachel M. Cohen called for a new approach to drug research and development based on need, not profit, in a September talk sponsored by the Justice and the Allocation of Health Care working group of the Yale Interdisciplinary Bioethics Project.

“We have made a societal choice that drug development should be confined to the private sector and that medicines are a commodity like any other that should be developed in order to maximize profit,” said Cohen, U.S. director of the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. As a result, most new drugs benefit inhabitants of the world’s richest nations and little is invested in drugs for diseases of the developing world, such as tuberculosis and malaria.

“Well, we’re sick of it,” she said, calling for a global framework that would define a health agenda, commit wealthy nations to contribute to health care internationally and strengthen international mechanisms for exchanging research results. “Our patients are dying, and we need to change the rules. We need a needs-driven global approach to thinking about how to finance research and development, with a general acknowledgement that research is failing poor people.”


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