A take on aid policy that might actually work

aids.victimsbarder.jpg Admittedly, I should have blogged this two weeks ago when Owen Barder posted it on his blog. However, when it comes to solving the massive health issues of developing countries most notably in Africa a couple of days' delay is not important.

What am I talking about then ?

When discussing world health the cruel and essentially intolerable facts are that people in Africa are dying of diseases which we, as a race, have been able to cure for many decades. This invokes two strings of thought in my mind. Firstly I am ashamed because the perspective of 1000 children dying in Africa of an illness I could potentially have had a 1000 times does not fit in with my view of the world. Secondly and more pragmatically I ask ... what can be done about this?

In his role as a senior associate at the Center for Global Development (CGD) Owen Barder and his colleagues have come up with a new solution to the tricky question of how to get pharmaceutical firms to develop the quantity of medicine and also the vaccines necessary to at least push a region as Africa in the right direction.

See their proposal here

The idea centers around a sort of government aided commodification of vaccines. If the market for vaccines gets big enough maybe the pharmaceutical cooperations will have the incentive to pick up the pace.

" (...) markets are too small, even though these vaccines would be a hugely cost-effective way to save lives in developing countries.  To solve this, rich countries could offer a guarantee: If a company can develop a vaccine for a disease like malaria, we will pay for it to be bought in large quantities in developing countries.  This creates strong commercial incentives for the biotech and pharmaceutical industry to accelerate the development of vaccines that will save millions of lives a year in developing countries."

Now, is this what we want or is it merely a display of cynical Anglo-Saxon profithunting ?

I believe the proposal is brilliant because it does not imply the ultimate naivity that the crisis in Africa will solve itself through one odd pharmaceutical firm's sudden CSR frenzy to save the world. Rather, the proposal implicitly acknowlegdes and essentially tries to exploit the forces of the market. And as such I see it as adaptive and original.     

Luckily for Owen Barder and his team I am not the only one approving this project. A report by the Italian finance minister Guilio Tremonti based on the CGD's work is also now being endorsed by the finance ministers of the G-7 group through this communiqué.

We can only hope that the proposal brings succes and ultimately a solution to one of mankind's biggest issues.