Thursday, August 07, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Steven Hoffman and Julia Belluz write that the current ebola outbreak - like many health catastrophes in the developing world - is traceable largely to the warped incentives facing medical researchers:
(W)e've learned a lot about Ebola: that it's spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, that we can stop it by using simple precautionary measures and basic hygiene practices. But every once in a while, these nightmarish outbreaks pop up and capture the international imagination. Worries about global spread are worsened by the fact that Ebola has no vaccine and no cure.

Here's what's surprising and interesting about this state of affairs: it is not caused by a lack of human ingenuity or scientific capacity to come up with Ebola remedies. It's because this is an African disease, and our global innovation system largely ignores the health problems of the poor.
Ebola will continue to move through Africa — this time, and again in the future — not only because of the viral reservoirs and broken health systems specific to the continent. There are much larger issues at play here. Namely, the global institutions we designed to promote health innovation, trade, and investment perpetuate its spread and prevent its resolution.

This shouldn't be news. Most all of the money for research and development in health comes from the private sector. They naturally have a singular focus — making money — and they do that by selling patent-protected products to many people who can and are willing to pay very high monopoly prices. Not by developing medicines and vaccines for the world's poorest people, like those suffering with Ebola.

Right now, more money goes into fighting baldness and erectile dysfunction than hemorrhagic fevers like dengue or Ebola. In the graph below, you can see global pharmaceutical spending in 2013. Neglected diseases (ie., Ebola) got hardly any of the share of funding. 
- Meanwhile, Justin Ling writes that Canada's own intellectual property system stands to become even more biased in favour of big pharma if the CETA comes into effect. And Aaron Carroll writes about the dangers of pay for performance within the medical system.

- Josiah Mortimer reports on the UK Cons' latest attack on the unemployed, this time deliberately requiring newly-unemployed workers to go up to six weeks without pay before receiving any employment benefits.

- Finally, Shannon Gormley discusses how mass surveillance may make it impossible for journalists, lawyers and other professionals who need to be able to assure confidentiality in defending important public interests to live up to their promises. And Conor Friedersdorf rightly questions how anybody could trust a system which allows state actors whose actions are under investigation to choose for themselves what information to release about their own wrongdoing.

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