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A document recently crossed my desk that was so seminal I needed to share it with my colleagues through this column.  I can only highlight the big pieces for you and suggest that you read the document yourself.

I would like to send you in the direction of a report by Oxfam, a group whose work is spread around the world but often focuses on healthcare delivery, or rather the absence thereof, to the poor.  The report is titled Investing for Life—Meeting Poor People's Needs for Access to Medicines through Responsible Business Practices.

In this report, Oxfam maintains that one of the major responsibilities of pharma companies is to develop and distribute meds to underdeveloped countries that cannot afford to pay for these agents.  Until now, Oxfam maintains, the industry has provided such access primarily as a PR stunt, i.e., taking already developed medications for diseases such as AIDS/HIV and distributing them to the needy at minimal pricing, thus permitting them to hold forth to the world their humanitarian behavior.  

As underdeveloped countries become more like the developed countries, with low-visibility killers such as hypertension becoming the real problems, Oxfam says that most pharma companies have no plan in place to deliver meds to the poor, let alone develop new products in areas that might only be of use in such poor countries, thus denying the company the opportunity to recoup its investment in R&D by selling the agents in developed countries. 

The report makes the point that pharma companies need to develop a plan to ensure that a country's ability to pay for medications is factored into strategies that companies develop.  From a moral perspective, Oxfam points out, we can no longer ignore this consideration. 

Richard Vanderveer is group CEO, GfK US Healthcare Companies

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