Friday, June 7, 2013


It has become quite trendy to knock the pharmaceutical industry.  Everyone from the President of the United States to individual patients seem to have nothing but complaints about pharmaceutical companies and things like the cost of medicine, how much executives make, and how much profit there is in the pharmaceutical industry.  However, few people realize how often pharmaceutical companies give away their medicines, especially in the undeveloped world. 

Parasites are a scourge in the developing world.  Onchocerciasis was once responsible for blinding literally hundreds of thousands of people every year.  Elephantiasis caused gross thickening of the lower extremities, especially the legs, which resulted in chronic, unstoppable pain in the victims.  Both of these diseases are caused by a parasite called microfilaria.

The giant pharmaceutical company Merck makes a medicine called Ivermectin which was developed for other reasons, but works very well against microfilaria.  The people who are affected by onchocerciasis and elephantiasis were not able to afford this medicine, and their governments were either unable or unwilling to buy it for them.  So Roy Vagelos, at the time the CEO of Merck, decided that Merck would provide the drug free to the poor people who needed it.  Today, an incredible 200 million people on our planet, roughly 3% of the world’s population, take Ivermectin for free every year!

Did you know this wonderful story?  With all of the complaints about the makers of medicine it is highly likely that you didn’t. 

This is hardly the only example of drug companies giving away expensive medicine for free to the poor undeveloped countries.  For example, the manufacturer of azithromycin provides millions of doses of this antibiotic to poor Africans who are either afflicted with or at risk for trachoma, another potentially blinding medical problem. 

We at Skyvision would like to congratulate Dr. Vagelos and other executives like him who have done, and continue to do the right thing.

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