Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Business Fights Poverty. It is re-posted with permission.
The drive to ensure access to medicine in low-income countries is a vital priority where private sector companies, governments, NGOs, international agencies and academic institutions all have a vital role to play. True, pharmaceutical companies have not always been seen as altruistic leaders in this field, but in recent years our industry’s leaders have been raising the bar. Today, we are seen as part of the solution.
The growing prominence of the private sector is reflected in the third biennial Access to Medicine Index. This assessment, performed by the Access to Medicine Foundation, an independent, not-for-profit organization, ranks pharmaceutical companies according to their efforts to bring essential medicines to people in low-income countries.
For the third time running, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is ranked highest. I am proud of how this public recognition validates our objective: to improve people’s health and well-being, regardless of where they live in the world or their ability to pay. Improving access to medicine is core to our overall strategy. We believe that being a responsible business is good for the company and good for society. It helps us create the products that people need, operate efficiently, gain the trust of our partners and grow our business.
Over the last five years we have made significant contributions toward making our medicines and vaccines more accessible, and making our business more relevant to people in poor countries:
We capped our prices for low-income countries and worked with UNICEF and GAVI Alliance to supply our medicines and vaccines so that price is not a barrier to access.
We continue to invest in research on diseases that affect poor people in the world, such as our commitment to develop a vaccine against malaria, and are driving new drug discovery for diseases of the developing world through support of the Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation.
We established a global specialist HIV company, ViiV Healthcare, that has enabled generics companies to manufacture and sell 717 million of its versions of Epivir and Combivir to sub-Saharan African countries in 2011 without paying royalties.
We created a business model focused solely on the least-developed countries with a mission to drive access – the Developing Countries Unit – which reinvests 20 percent of profits generated in the least-developed countries like Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Yemen back into community programs to strengthen health care infrastructure.
GSK is taking a different approach to meeting the challenges in these countries, working in partnership with others and aligning the health care needs of people in developing countries with the commercial success that will ensure sustained investment. Our partnerships are central to the success of these endeavors – a sign of the new paradigm for our industry. With the right commitment and support from governments and NGOs and the involvement of the private sector, the potential impact is staggering.
We recognize there is more we can do, but it is entirely possible for private companies with a social conscience to achieve commercial success and meet the health care needs of the people. We will continue to challenge ourselves to adopt and deliver new ideas and approaches to improve lives around the world. This is not easy work, but it is critically important to building a stronger, healthier future for everyone, no matter where they live.
Allan Pamba is the director Public Engagement & Access Initiatives at GlaxoSmithKline. His role focuses on the sustainable delivery of GSK medicines and vaccines to developing countries via innovative business models.