Issue brief |

R&D System is Failing to Meet Health Needs in Developing Countries

MSF Briefing note for Ministerial Summit on Health Research, Mexico City, 16-20 November 2004

When there is enough concern and motivation, health research and development (R&D) can yield rapid results. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, for instance, led to unprecedented international cooperation and a tremendous marshalling of resources to cope with this new threat. In a matter of weeks, scientists had sequenced the virus, and through successful public and private co-operation, a diagnostic kit was rapidly developed and deployed. Similarly, the anthrax scare in the United States in 2001 led biodefense research spending at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to increase from US$53 million in 2001 to US$1.6 billion in 2004.

Sadly, the sense of urgency that resulted in these swift and efficient responses is entirely lacking in R&D for diseases that exclusively or disproportionately affect the poor. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams have been increasingly frustrated in their efforts to treat people suffering from sleeping sickness, kala-azar, malaria, Chagas disease, tuberculosis and other "neglected diseases" for the simple reason that their therapeutic toolbox is virtually empty.

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