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Al Jazeera: The great billion-dollar drug (and vaccine) scam? | 

Flickr, anolob

The pharmaceutical industry often trots out some pretty stunning numbers to explain why their drugs cost so much. A journalist and South African scholar scrutinizes the numbers for Al Jazeera.

In the first part of a two-part series called “The great billion dollar drug scam,” investigative journalist Khadija Sharife begins her analysis (interestingly, oddly, labeled by Al Jazeera as an opinion piece) with a focus on the Gates Foundation-backed global vaccination project known as GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization:

Alongside pneumococcal diseases such as meningitis and pneumonia, rotavirus-related diarrhoea is a primary childhood killer in developing countries, thought to snuff out the lives of 500,000 children each and every year. An overwhelming 85 per cent of these children are African and Asian. The need for medical miracles is as great as ever, but corporate mispricing generates huge profits, while driving up the price of life saving medicines.

British-based drug corporation GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently offered a five-year deal to supply poor nations with 125 million doses of the rotavirus vaccine – Rotarix – at $2.50 a dose, just five per cent of the current going price in Western markets. Through the GAVI group, the international vaccine agency financed by developed nations such as the UK, it is hoped that GSK and pharmaceutical multinational Merck – who, between them, dominate the rotavirus vaccine market – will provide a secure line of low-cost drugs for as many as forty countries in the near future.

But is it really a discount, and if so, who is paying the cost?

I think this is easy enough to answer: Yes, these are clearly discounts (about one-tenth what the vaccine costs in the U.S.) and we in the rich world are basically subsidizing cheaper vaccines for the poor world.

Is it enough of a discount? Some think not. Others think we’re getting a pretty good deal and need to be more sympathetic to the much-maligned drug industry. Continue reading