Global market for drugs

Pharma is now encouraged to develop drugs for low-income countries

Patients in low-income countries often struggle to gain access to appropriate treatments. Whether a disease is a ‘global disease’ (one for which drugs are on the market in high-income countries) or a ‘neglected disease’ (one that primarily afflicts low-income countries), low-income countries face challenges in treating patients. The drugs that treat ‘global’ diseases are often too expensive for poorer populations, and pharmaceutical companies require subsidies and policies that mitigate the risk in developing therapeutics for ‘neglected’ diseases.

Things have begun to change, however, and progress is being made in a variety of ways. Public–private partnerships in which multinational corporations team with academia, not-for-profits or governments have increased funding for developing treatments. These partnerships are tackling ‘neglected’ diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and some other tropical diseases.

Bill and Melinda Gates’ charity, the Gates Foundation, has had a massive impact on health in low-income countries. The Foundation works with partner organisations to help some of the world’s poorest people and, during its 14-year history, has donated around $40 billion to projects around the globe.

There has been some criticism of subsidising the drug development of big business. It’s argued that low-cost, low-tech health measures provide a more cost-effective means of improving health. Examples of these alternatives include mosquito nets and an improved water supply. This type of approach, coupled with investment in education, could potentially improve health in low-income nations with far less expense.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Drug Development’ in January 2008 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Health, infection and disease, Medicine
Drug Development
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development