Globalisation can be described as a process which the people of the world are into a single society. This process is a combination of economic, technological, socio-cultural and political forces. The Pharmaceutical factor comes as a hybrid of economic and technological forces. The trend of Globalisation was first recognized in the mid-1940s and the term was later used in 1981. The pharmaceutical industry is a commercial business whose focus is to research, develop and/or distribute drugs – conventionally under the context of healthcare.
In March 2001, South Africa was sued by 41 Pharmaceutical companies for their Medicine Act, which allowed the import and generic production of cheap AIDS drugs. The case was later dropped after protest around the world. This incident clearly reflects the influence of pharmaceutical matters on the international scene. Although, it would be a mistake to consider that all effects of globalization on the pharmaceutical industry are negative – or for that matter, entirely positive.
The pharmaceutical industry has taken advantage of the modern trend of globalisation to increase their assets and influence in medical healthcare across the globe. Companies spend large amounts of money on advertising, marketing and lobbying (government or parliament i.e. the decision-making body). The industry spends roughly US$19 billion a year for that sole cause. In some countries, such as the United State s of America, companies are allowed to promote their firms or products directly to the public. Consequently, this has allowed some companies to specialize in data and analytics for pharmaceutical marketing. An example of this phenomenon is Yellowikis, to name one out of many.
There have also been drastic improvements to the state of third-world countries. In China, the portion of the population living with a daily income of $1-$2 per day was decreased by 52% in 28 years. This was due to the country’s participation in the World Trade Organisation – and in effect, a direct participation in globalisation. Under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, a developing country has options for obtaining needed medications under compulsory licensing or importation of cheaper versions of the drugs, even before patent expiration.
Pharmaceutical companies often offer much needed medication at no or reduced cost to the developing countries. There have been numerous contributions in the past, with many more expected to follow. The ‘Marks Gift’ initiative donated billions of River Blindness drugs in Africa. There was also Pfizer’s gift of free or discounted Fluconazole and other drugs to combat AIDS in South Africa. GSK committed itself to give free Albenzadole tables for, and until, the elimination of lymphatic filariasis world-wide. Finally, in 2006, Novartis committed $755 million in corporate citizenship initiatives around the world, mainly focusing on improved access to medicines in the developing world through its access Medicine Projects. This included donation of medicine to patients affected by leprosy, tuberculosis and malaria; Glivec patient assistance programmes and relief to support major humanitarian organisations with emergency medical needs.
Even though it is certain that these charitable and humanitarian projects have saved and improved many lives world-wide, some acts by pharmaceutical companies are seen as either dangerous to human health or attempted tutelage of the market in certain geographic boundaries. In 1996, a paediatric clinical trial conducted on behalf of Pfizer tested the anti-biotic Trovan allegedly without first obtaining the informed consent of participants or their parents. This occurrence took place in Nigeria.
Following up, proposals to allow the manufacture generic AIDS drugs among the industry’s many firms are without controversy. This is because it is feared this may cause a move in the pharmaceutical companies away from AIDS drugs research to focus on more profitable areas. This could be summed up as indirect blackmail by the pharmaceutical companies which may claim human lives in the future.
It is without doubt that globalisation has had a role and many effects to play on the pharmaceutical industry, as well as the public well-being around the globe. Despite some misgivings, it could be argues that many developments have been achieved in this particular industry, and as a result, benefited millions of people world-wide.
As Kofi Annan once said, “It has been said that arguing against globalisation is like arguing against the law of gravity.” It is confiding to know that the pharmaceutical industry’s compliance with this phenomenal force spawns far more positive results than the negative.