Why Drugs That Save Aren’t Always Available
Almost 2 1/2 years ago I wrote a post titled Why Prescription Drug Costs Are So High. I walked through the steps of how these things come to market, and it’s a pretty comprehensive list. I hope you check that out because, unless you already understand the process, you might not understand the rest of what I’m going to share here.
Two weeks ago the big story in the U.S. was having an American who’d contracted Ebola frown from Africa to Atlanta for treatment. That seemed scary enough, but what was amazing is that whatever they gave this person they started to recover from it to the point where the patient, a physician, was able to hold a press conference. This led to the question of why, if there was a drug available that could cure this nasty disease, why wasn’t it being sent to Africa to take care of these people.
I’m going to tell you why. The reason… costs. Now I’m going to explain.
It costs a lot to bring pharmaceuticals to market. One of the things that’s calculate by drug companies is about how much money they can make on that drug. That calculation takes into account all the research, the papers, paying for salaries of those who have to create it, whether insurance companies will pay for it, can they get grants from the government, and just how large the population is that might possibly consume it. That’s a bunch isn’t it?
Truthfully, there have been drugs created that could cure plenty of things that happen to people that never make it out of the lab. They do get tested on a population because science is science, but often that’s as far as it goes. If a profit can’t be made, that’s that. Sure, most of us believe there should be a moral imperative at work, but that’s just not how things are done. Business is business, and if corporations can’t at least recoup their investment, they’re not going to put any real money into it.
This brings up Ebola. True, the World Health Organization recently stated that there’s a real crisis with the reemergence of Ebola. And it can be a deadly disease; it’s one of the scariest diseases ever, and if you want to know about it, check out the book The Hot Zone (this links to the Wikipedia page), which I read in the mid 90’s.
No one knows when it’ll pop up or where it’ll pop up, and it can spread fast. But when compared to many other diseases the numbers are low. Before this year, there had never been 1,000 people in Africa diagnosed with it. Through July this year that number is up around 1,300. That pales in comparison to even the flu, which confirms around 75,000 people a year in the U.S. alone, although its mortality rate is much lower (Ebola can be between 50% and 90% of its victims).
This isn’t a philosophical discussion of the merits of why the drug should or should not be dosed out to countries that need it. Instead, it’s a look at the money, which everything in the world is based on. If you want to relate it to something in the United States, look at HIV drugs which, when Magic Johnson was diagnosed, could cost as much as $15,000 a month for treatment, and even though it’s still pretty high, now offers more options that range between $2,000 and $5,000 a month because there’s a lot more people who had it, though, because the numbers have come down, could start the costs of obtaining them could potentially rise.