Chance for BRICs to play greater role in fighting diseases
Whiteside A and Cohen J: China Daily, 12 July 2013
Subject: chance for BRICs to play greater role in fighting diseases Partnership promotes better health Updated: 2013-07-12 11:17 By Alan Whiteside and Jamie Cohen ( China Daily) Withdrawal of global funders presents chance for brics to play greater role in fighting diseases For too long Africans have been dependent on aid and medicines from the West - imported knowledge, drugs and dollars - but a welcome shift is occurring in our backyard and around the African continent. Last October, we attended the launch of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV. What is inspiring is the transnational, innovative research being done in South Africa, at the heart of the HIV and TB epidemic, with state-of-the-art equipment. Among the distinguished guests were Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi and the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Premier Zweli Mkhize. A few months ago, South Africa hosted the fifth annual BRICS summit in Durban. This forum, which was held in Africa for the first time, convened leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on the theme "BRICS and Africa: Partnership for development, integration and industrialization". Good health is a catalyst for economic growth and development. Twenty years ago, the World Bank's 16th World Development Report, subtitled Investing in Health, argued that health is critical for economic growth. It identified four concrete ways to achieve this: reducing lost productivity caused by illness; enabling the use of natural resources previously inaccessible because of disease; increasing school performance and enrolment of children; and freeing resources that would otherwise be spent to treat illness. Across the world, healthcare innovation has allowed us to live longer. Over the past several decades, global life expectancy has improved dramatically - by 35 years since 1970. Gains in life expectancy have been seen in many places, but not in southern Africa, where adult mortality from AIDS has shortened it, and in Haiti, where it is low due to the 2010 earthquake. The pattern of disease is changing. Today, non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of premature death globally, contributing to half or more of all healthy years lost in most countries outside sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these diseases are lifestyle ones, caused by poor diet and lack of exercise and linked with family history. Although the growth of non-communicable diseases is shifting the disease profile of African countries, communicable diseases remain the primary cause of shortened lives. This region has been held back from the gains in health made around the world due to AIDS, maternal deaths and child mortality caused by infectious diseases and malnutrition. In the southern horn of Africa, AIDS is the leading cause of death. In South Africa, 5.6 million people are living with HIV, half of new TB cases are also infected with HIV, and the epidemic accounts for almost half the years of life lost. Health, in the form of research and development agendas, financing, infrastructure and delivery systems, must be responsive to disease and epidemic trends. Healthcare has improved considerably. We are now able to fight many of the continent's most devastating diseases. Innovation happens at every point from the laboratory to the patient. Drug delivery is becoming more efficient and effective with advances in diagnostics and routine point-of-care services. For example, GeneXpert, an automated DNA test for TB, is revolutionizing TB diagnostics, bringing earlier treatment and saving lives. Advanced market commitments and an innovative financing mechanism create a viable market for pharmaceutical companies to invest in vaccines and drug development for diseases affecting the world's poorest countries. Partnership needs to be a core component of effective innovation and is key for benefiting the health of developing countries. This was seen at the launching of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV and in the declarations made at the Durban BRICS summit. In the late-1990s, Brazil played an instrumental role in shifting the paradigm of healthcare and human rights when it challenged the World Trade Organization and its intellectual property regime. Brazil violated a WTO clause to provide antiretroviral drugs and to lower their price. This reaffirmed medicine as a fundamental human right. While many drugs continue to be developed in the West, India has stepped in to manufacture generic medicines for the world's poorest countries. Through low-cost support and commodities, India has filled a gap in the global market. China has an increasing role to play in the global health arena. It invested $36.1 billion in 2011 in research and development, placing the country in a position to become a major player in healthcare innovation. Additionally, given the sheer scale of industry and financial resources available, China has the capacity to develop and supply HIV drugs and technologies to meet the needs of the African epidemic. Traditional donors are beginning to recede from the global health landscape and countries are becoming more dependent on domestic resources. The UK Department for International Development and the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief's planned move out of South Africa are recent examples of this trend. Their departure presents an opportunity for new sources of engagement including from the growing BRICS economies. Investing in the health of Africa will fuel development, enhance diplomacy and build South-South solidarity. Alan Whiteside is the director at Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division, University of KwaZulu-Natal and CIGI chair in Global Health Policy, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University. Jamie Cohen is a South Africa Fulbright alumnus in public health research and a visiting fellow at HEARD. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.