Reprivatizing pharmaceutical supplies in Africa

M Turshen
Journal of Public Health Policy 2001, 22 (2): 198-225
Perhaps no part of the health system is as imperiled by neoliberal economic reforms as the public drug sector. The national bill for pharmaceuticals can claim one-third of a developing country's annual health budget. This article describes the essential drugs program created by WHO in the 1980s to protect financially reduced ministries of health from the high prices charged by multinational pharmaceutical companies. It describes the backlash from the World Bank and UNICEF, which launched the Bamako Initiative and other community financing schemes and revolving drug plans in which individuals, families or community groups buy drugs above the wholesale purchase price; clinics use the proceeds to maintain drug supplies and subsidize other health services. When this plan failed, the Bank proposed outright privatization of drug purchase and supply, returning power to the multinational suppliers. The article ends with a consideration of patents and the new intellectual property rights as they pertain to pharmaceutical production in Africa.

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