Making a Medicine as Easy to Find as a Can of Coke

Monday, July 8, 2013

By Sarika Bansal

Diarrheal disease, which kills a million children younger than 5 each year, has an image problem. It doesn’t raise much alarm in industrialized countries, where it is merely a nuisance that can be treated with inexpensive, readily accessible remedies. In poorer countries, though, where a large majority of these children are dying, those remedies often cannot be found.

“We can distribute Coca-Cola all around the world, but we can’t seem to get medication to save a child from something as simple as diarrhea,” said the singer Annie Lennox in a 2008 interview.

Lennox has a point. Throughout the developing world, there are signs of this disparity. While visiting a village in Ethiopia last year, I was told that the nearest pharmacy was three hours away by foot. But around the corner, a tiny provisions shop was stocked with soft drinks and potato chips.

Indeed, Coca-Cola’s footprint in Africa is considerable. The company distributes its sugary beverage to every African country and is one of the continent’s largest employers. At the same time, 30 percent to 50 percent of the sub-Saharan African population lacks access to essential medicines. Clinics are few and far between, and drugs in them are often out of stock. A Johns Hopkins study found oral rehydration salts, or O.R.S., a diarrhea treatment, to be unavailable during one of every five clinic visits in Tanzania.

Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)

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