What are the consequences of inadequate or broken health delivery systems in developing countries? That might seem like a difficult question to answer, at least with any specificity.
But Rajeev Venkayya, director for global health delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, tried his best to quantify the impact of deficient health infrastructures, in a talk today hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
One example Venkayya offered up: speeding up the availability of the rotavirus vaccine in the developing world by just a few years will save an estimated 1.4 million lives. (Put another way, failure to do so will cost 1.4 million lives.)
Venkayya noted that in the U.S., we take drug delivery for granted. Once a pharmaceutical company has gotten FDA approval for a product, there are few barriers to access in the U.S., save cost. But in the developing world, any number of obstacles can block access to life-saving medicines. He noted that while the Hib vaccine has been available for more than 2 decades here, it has still not been introduced in India.
There are myriad reasons for such problems, he said, including failure by drug developers to think ahead about basic challenges, such as how much refrigeration will be available in poor nations to keep large stocks of vaccines. If drug-makers had such things in mind from the start, he said, that could lead to products that were better suited for poor populations.
Asked how the global economic crisis would affect global health programs, Venkayya said he saw both a challenge and an opportunity. The downside is obvious: “We’re already seeing countries pull back from commitments made” to fund vital programs, he said, and the impact of “pulling bank is frankly catastrophic.”
On the upside, he said the cash crunch could spark innovation by forcing ministers of health across the global to think carefully “about the efficiency of the spend.”