Stanford Social Innovation Review: Access by Prescription

Published in Stanford Social Innovation Review

The article describes the corporate strategies that large pharmaceutical companies use to make medicines and vaccines accessible for people living in low- and middle-income countries.

Worldwide, an estimated two billion people are unable to reap the full benefits of modern medicine. For reasons that range from high costs to inadequate distribution, they lack access to medications for preventable or treatable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Global pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, have both the ability to provide critical medications and an incentive to extend their reach into the regions where those two billion people live. After all, market access (for companies) and access to medicine (for patients) are two sides of the same coin. Or, to put it another way, the poor are consumers, too. How can pharma companies improve their ability to serve this base of potential customers?

The organization that I lead, the Access to Medicine Foundation, has been investigating that question for the past 10 years. We work with leading experts to study several core issues: How can pharmaceutical companies ensure that their products are affordable? Where should they direct their R&D resources? How should they manage their supply chains? We also analyze what pharma companies are doing within their own operations to make their products more readily available—and more affordable—to the world’s poorest people. Every two years, we publish the Access to Medicine Index, a ranking of 20 of the world’s top pharmaceutical makers that reviews their efforts to provide medical products to people in developing countries.

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