Addressing the complexities of treating disease in developing countries

Non-pharma and pharmaceutical company employees alike have wondered: “Why don’t we just give away medicines and drugs that can save so many lives in the developing world?

Allan Pamba worked at a clinic in Kenya in the early years after HIV/AIDs was recognized and had become a big problem. He became frustrated that he was seeing patients (from teenager years through the elderly) who did not have antiretroviral drugs to help treat the HIV.

Pamba, now a director in GlaxoSmithKline’s Developing Countries Market Access Unit, relates, “Through the years, in conversations with health policy officials in countries, I learned that they have refused donations when they are not sure it’s going to last. They would say, ‘If you give this to me free today, do I have to buy it from someone else or at a higher price when your company has a bad year’.”

Pamba says problems sometimes can be solved by looking at them from a different angle or by providing information. For example, he referred to an arrangement GSK has with cell phone maker Vodafone: When women give birth at a clinic, they leave behind their phone number so they are sent text messages reminding them to get vaccines for their children.

“There are half a billion handsets in Africa,” Pamba said of the spread of cell phone use. “Some people don’t have enough food, but they have a cell phone.”

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