Narrowing the gap

Journal of Medical Ethics 26 (1):51-53 (2000)
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Since 1981 AIDS has illuminated, like a roving searchlight, a series of ethical questions, which extend far beyond the apparently narrow limits of one disease. It has revealed, one by one, human attitudes and behaviours that were previously unquestioned, or unobserved - based on unidentified but shaky pre-suppositions.This commentary offers two contrasting perspectives on the problems facing developing countries. In the first part, I comment on the preceding article, from the perspective of a clinician who has worked for many years in Africa, and who witnessed the emergence of AIDS in the early 1980s and its medical, social, political and economic consequences.1 In the second, I comment on a conference in Lusaka in September 1999 that addressed many of the issues.Narrowing the gap?“Narrowing the gap” raises questions about truth or transparency in the activities of multinational companies, the ethics and economics of health care in global society and the distribution of responsibility for unwanted side effects of new treatments. The scale of HIV infection in developing countries draws attention to weaknesses or instability in theoretical and practical structures, which serve - or should serve - human wellbeing, whenever it is disturbed by disease.Truth and transparencyDuring the last 60 years, combined with improved standards of living, the products of pharmaceutical effort and ingenuity have resulted in large gains in life expectancy. These were most marked in rich northern societies, but even poor southern countries had seen it extended by 15 to 20 years, until recently.However, “the costs of drug development are not small”.2 A detailed study of costs of clinical trials found that the total cost of new drug development can be as high as $500 million per drug.3 Patent laws allow a temporary monopoly for the production and sale for a number of years. During this “protected” …



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