Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Drug Makers and 3rd World: Study in Neglect
New York Times
; New York, N.Y.; May 21, 2000; DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.;
Late Edition (East Coast)
MEDICINE MERCHANTS: A special report.
World Health Organization
These ailments go untreated or badly treated not just because the poor cannot afford the drugs they need, though that is a serious problem, but because the drugs themselves do not exist. The
pharmaceutical industry has little incentive to invent them. Companies decline to invest the huge sums needed to chase a cure they know their potential customers cannot afford.
Pharmaceutical executives reluctantly concur with his assessment. Told that the industry's critics say it would rather find a cure for a bald American than a dying African, Francois Gros, a
spokesman for Aventis, the French-German pharmaceutical company that makes three of the four sleeping sickness drugs, ruefully acknowledged: ''That's not completely wrong. We know what's
happening in the third world, but we don't act.''
[Earlier this month, five major pharmaceutical companies announced that they were entering negotiations with the W.H.O. to voluntarily lower their prices on their AIDS drugs to Africa by as much
as 80 percent. But last week, at a global convention of health ministers at the W.H.O.'s headquarters in Geneva, the ministers of many poor nations said that was not enough. They asked the
W.H.O. to create a database of all prices for AIDS drugs, including the cheapest generics from countries that do not honor American or European patents, and to help them change their patent laws
so they could buy them.]
Copyright New York Times Company May 21, 2000
Jabbing, apologizing and then jabbing again, it takes Harriet Ayikoru nearly 20 minutes to find a usable vein beneath the sleeves of the sad old Tweety Bird T-shirt that Sentina Drajiru wears, and when the melarsoprol
goes in, Ms. Drajiru winces.
Again and again she lightly touches her arm to show exactly where she feels the sharp tip of the pain as the medicine simmers up it.
It is like eating chili peppers, she says, only it is inside her.
''Once you use this drug, the vein is spoiled,'' says Miss Ayikoru, a nurse in the thatched clinic here. ''As it is corrosive, it erodes the inside layer. So the relapses like her are the hardest cases -- the scar tissue is
there even six months later.''
Melarsoprol, invented almost 70 years ago, is melarsen oxide dissolved in propylene glycol -- literally, arsenic in antifreeze. It kills 5 percent of those treated with it. But it is the only medicine available to treat
advanced sleeping sickness, one of the historic scourges of Africa, which was nearly wiped out 50 years ago, but has made a comeback.
The only alternative ran out in July. The manufacturer, which abandoned it as unprofitable when it turned out to be useless against its intended target, cancer, has made one last batch, enough for 1,000 patients. But