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The political economy of the global pharmaceutical industry: Why the poor lack access to medicine and what might be done about it


  • Anil Hira


Purpose - The majority of the world's population has limited access to needed medicines. The purpose of this paper is to explain why certain characteristics of the global pharmaceutical market have not served a large majority of potential consumers in the developing world. Design/methodology/approach - Through a political economy analysis of evolutionary and regulatory aspects of both supply and demand conditions for global pharmaceuticals, it can be understood why most of the world's poor have limited access to basic medicines. The paper then turns to what avenues are available for improving access to medicines. An analysis of the chief proposed solutions, namely: pooled demand and relaxation of intellectual property rights, reveals their inadequacies. A third emerging avenue, the growing production of pharmaceuticals in the south, is examined through case studies of leading producers including India, China, and South America. Findings - While each of the three options offers potential benefits, none is adequate to solve the problem – a new, perhaps combinatorial, approach will be needed to ensure that a wider global market for pharmaceuticals can be created. Originality/value - The paper offers insights into the political economy of the global pharmaceutical industry.

Suggested Citation

  • Anil Hira, 2009. "The political economy of the global pharmaceutical industry: Why the poor lack access to medicine and what might be done about it," International Journal of Development Issues, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 8(2), pages 84-101, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:ijdipp:v:8:y:2009:i:2:p:84-101

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