Whether Or not Pharmaceutical Companies Are Doing Enough to Alleviate Global Health Inequities

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Within the past decade it has become more and more evident that the cost of prescription drugs is increasing at an exponential rate. This has been seen not only in research studies, but also through the actions of United States government. Our government has tried time and time again to come up with a resolution not only to our healthcare issues, but also the immense burden paying for medications has become for low-income families. Unfortunately, we have not come up with a solution that everyone can agree with. However, we are not the only country that struggles with such issues. The pharmaceutical industry, from what it seems, has done everything in its power to either increase the inequities that exist or keep them afloat. Throughout the paper there will be terms that reappear due to their importance in defining certain things that occur within the debate. To clarify things, the debate at hand is if whether or not pharmaceutical companies are doing enough to alleviate global health inequities. With that being said and clarified, some key terms that you will see reappearing in this paper are: inequity, poverty, developing world, developed world, moral, ethical, and responsibility. The context in which inequity will be used in this paper is tied to one of its few meanings in that it is an unfair circumstance or proceeding. Ultimately, inequity is tied to things being unfair. Poverty is another word that will be brought up multiple times throughout the paper, and means that state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support. As talked about in class, we have also defined this as having or earning less than two dollars a day. Another important term is a developing world, also known as a “third world,” is an underdeveloped nation, known to have widespread poverty. The opposite of a developing world, is the already developed world. A developed world or developed country is that of one that is in a sovereign state and has a developed economy and advanced technological infrastructure relative to other less industrialized nations.

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Two words that are always confused with each other are moral and ethical. Knowing the difference between these two is very crucial in understanding the ideas and content in this paper. Ethics refers to rules provided by an external source (i.e. codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions). Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. Finally, responsibility. Responsibility is being answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management. All of these words are important when talking about the topic I will be writing about in the following pages. Without knowing these terms prior to reading, you could easily enter the state of confusion and be unable to form your own opinion and thoughts on the subject.

As I was doing research into the topic of whether or not the pharmaceutical industry as well as individual pharmaceutical companies were doing enough to alleviate global health inequities, the side that you would assume would say “yes” took on a far different perspective on the topic than I had imagined they would. From my research, quite a few of my sources countered with the argument of whether or not the companies within the pharmaceutical industry had any obligation in alleviating global health inequities, and defends the idea of a corporation having the right to tackle its “social responsibility” in any manner it sees necessary. Besides that, a majority of the articles I had encountered pointed out the immense cost not only behind developing a drug but also by marketing it to consumers.

In the article “Developing Drugs for the Developing World: An Economic, Legal, Moral, and Political Dilemma,” written by David B. Resnik, the author points out the simple fact of how important funding is in the process of developing a drug. Resnik bluntly puts it as, with no money there cannot be research and development. In layman’s terms, pharmaceutical companies would not be able to create drugs if they didn’t charge the prices they do. Resnik stated in his paper that “on average it cost $500 million to develop and test a single drug that will be sold in the United States.” Resnik later goes on to talk about social responsibility in pharmaceutical companies. He says “Companies should not act like moral scoundrels, but they do not need to act like moral saints.” He states that these companies have a slew of variables that they must pay attention to and adhere to. Those included were “talents, abilities, resources, interests, commitments, and obligations.” Resnik pointed out the importance of a company’s obligations, saying that corporations “have commitments to their stockholders and employees, as well as an obligation to make a profit and to use their economic resources effectively. One of the most important things to come from the piece written by David Resnik, is the importance of patents. He says that “developing nations that fail to honor pharmaceutical patents may actually be harming themselves.” This is due to the fact that there are countries where pharmaceutical companies cannot get patent protection for their product. India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Brazil were a few named to not honor pharmaceutical product patents. This has been shown to drive prices down quite significantly for certain products, however this drives companies out of the country very quickly due to the fact that they are actually losing money. The author talks about how pharmaceutical patenting is relevant to social responsibility in that “when a company has strong patent protection, they can expect a profit in which they can use to devote more resources to socially responsible programs”. “If they fail to realize profits, they have less money to devote to programs designed to enhance social welfare.” Ultimately, David B. Resnik was trying to make the point that pharmaceutical companies and developing countries need to reciprocate action in order for things to get to a much better circumstance. Once developing countries offer pharmaceutical patents, then those larger companies can and should invest time and money into research and development for inexpensive drugs for those who need it the most. One of the most interesting perspectives when dealing with this topic was from an author whose work I had mentioned earlier, dealing with whether or not a business is obligated to save the lives of people, or in less cruel of words, alleviate global health inequities.

P.L. Chang, author of “Who’s in the Business of Saving Lives?” has made it his goal to argue that there is no distinction between pharmaceutical companies that manufacture life-saving drugs and companies that produce other products (i.e. cell phones, microwaves, tables, etc.) In Chang’s paper, he points out some key terms which he relates to companies within the pharmaceutical industry. Those terms include stockholder theory, stakeholder theory, and social-responsibility theory. Stockholder theory is “when corporate decision makers have a duty to increase profits for stockholders without the use of deception or fraud”. In relation to companies in the pharmaceutical industry, Chang states that underneath that term, “pharmaceutical companies have a duty to ignore the concern with saving the lives of those in need, unless acting on this concern increases profits for stockholders.” Stakeholder theory, as it relates to being obligated to alleviate global health inequities, would mean that if “these people counted as stakeholders, then the drug company would be obligated to consider their interests, which technically means that there could be an obligation to provide life-saving drugs.” P.L. Chang later defends the pharmaceutical industry by saying that the special duty of saving lives is not appointed to any company in general including any company within the pharmaceutical industry simply because it is a pharmaceutical company. Chang points out a simple fact, that drugs are not the only thing that can save live, but also money. He says that “money can help in purchasing supplies, drugs, doctors, etc.” He then goes on to say that even though companies within the pharmaceutical industry have “reasonable profit margins,” they shouldn’t be morally obligated to save lives because companies such as McDonalds, Nike, and Coca-Cola are not held under that same idea. These companies too, have ridiculously high profit margins, yet they aren’t held at the same standard as the companies within the pharmaceutical industry. Throughout the entirety of Peter Lee Chang’s writing, he is trying to point out the fact that he believes that every company should be treated the same, no matter the circumstance. If companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Target are not morally obligated to save lives with any of their resources, such as products, profits, etc. then companies such as Pfizer, Merck & Co., or Johnson & Johnson shouldn’t be required to either.

Another author, James M. Huebner, took a very similar position as Peter Lee Chang did in “Moral Psychology and the Intuition that Pharmaceutical Companies Have a ‘Special’ Obligation to Society”. Huebner talks about how it’s essentially hypocritical of society to expect pharmaceutical companies to be held under a microscope and obligated to do certain things that other companies who don’t fall under this classification do not. Huebner also did not fail to recognize another fact that is usually used against pharmaceutical companies when discussing global health inequities or tackling social responsibilities, their high profit margins. The author implies that it is very unfair that society does not hold other highly successful companies, outsides of the pharmaceutical industry, to the same standards. Huebner mentioned an example, from 2011, where “mining and crude oil production, software, and networking/communications equipment industries all averaged higher profit margins than the top 12 pharmaceutical companies list in the fortune 500.” Something that I had found to be quite interesting was included in a following sentence, which dealt with how hard it would be to defend an outside industry, stating that those companies could make a donation to a charitable fund(s), such as the Habitat for Humanity. Huebner said that doing so, for a company outside of the pharmaceutical industry, would be similar to a company, within the pharmaceutical industry, allocating funds and research and development into something for a particularly poorer region of the world.

At the end of the day, these three authors came together and presented a valid counter-argument to whether or not pharmaceutical companies/ the pharmaceutical industry are doing enough to alleviate global health inequities. Originally, I would never have thought about the ideas presented to me. The fact that these three presented evidence into why these companies should not be held at different standards than those who aren’t, was very eye-opening. I see where they are coming from, and could, if need be, argue their side. However, I personally do not believe that the pharmaceutical industry is doing enough or anything at all to alleviate the global health inequities that many countries across the world are facing. I also do not fall blind to what these authors seem to have, capitalism. It seems that these authors had business in their eyes, and money on their mind. It was truly upsetting to see that this side was able talk so much about profits, when the matter at hand is human lives.

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