The Health Impact Fund: How Not to Exclude the Poor from Advanced Medicines

A Presentation of the Rice University Lecture Series on Ethics, Politics and Society

Some 18 million people die annually from poverty-related causes. Many more are suffering grievously from treatable diseases, or are severely affected by avoidable death and disease in their families. It is possible to reduce these burdens substantially by supplementing the rules established by the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), which govern pharmaceutical innovation. These rules result in steep prices of advanced medicine and steer medical research away from diseases concentrated among marginalized populations. Moral and political philosopher Thomas Pogge will discuss one proposal designed to complement these rules: the Health Impact Fund (HIF), financed by governments around the world. The HIF would offer pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to participate in a reward pool by registering new products with the fund. For the next 10 years, participants would receive a share equal to their respective share of the assessed global health impact of all HIF-registered products. The more people that benefit from the medicine, the more money the company receives. The innovator would commit to making its product available wherever it is needed at the lowest feasible cost of manufacture and distribution. Fully consistent with TRIPS, the HIF achieves three key advances: It directs pharmaceutical research toward the most serious diseases, including those concentrated among the poor; it makes all HIF-registered medicines available at a more affordable price; and it incentivizes innovators to promote the optimal use of their HIF-registered medicines. These advances would engender large health gains.

Thomas Pogge is the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, as well as the research director at the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature, University of Oslo. He is a distinguished moral and political philosopher known especially for his work on global justice. Pogge is the author of the pioneering book "World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms" (Polity, 2002), and editor of "Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who Owes What to the Very Poor?" (Oxford University Press, 2007).