Two drug companies, Pfizer based in New York and Cipla based in Mumbai have promised to provide cancer drugs for several African countries at rock bottom prices, meaning prices where the companies would not be making any money, but would not be losing money either. There are only 16 drugs involved and 6 countries so far, but the deal is seen as one that will save many lives. Cancer in Africa has been growing, and 450,000 die every year for lack of care. By 2030 this number is projected to be one million. The agreement also includes top American oncologists devising treatment program guidelines for unequipped African facilities, essentially refining and adapting existing protocols. A team of IBM programmers will then build a program so that those guidelines can become an online tool available to any African oncologist with an Internet connection. The agreement is being brokered by the cancer society and the Clinton Health Access Initiative, IBM, The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which is a group of American oncologists, and the African Cancer Coalition, a group of 32 African oncologists from 11 nations. Not only are hospitals ill equipped and underfunded, there is a shortage of them. African nations usually also have a shortage of oncologists and trained personnel to diagnose. Many Africans have come to assume a diagnosis of cancer is doom. American health experts say this program has a good chance of working and is reminiscent of the efforts in Africa which saved many with AIDS.
The US has untold problems with its health care system, not the least of which is access, but at least the facilities and the personnel exist. As to drug pricing and the difference a similar approach would make, perhaps this will inspire appropriate groups to forge a similar alliance. Regardless we can all feel some gratification that some lives in Africa will be saved.