Bioethics and Neglected Diseases


Miguel Kottow, MD
Full Professor Universidad de Chile, Santiago, CHILE

Series: Public Health in the 21st Century
BISAC: HEA028000

Table of Contents

Neglected diseases are severe conditions that mainly affect the world’s poorest people. Those suffering from neglected diseases are mostly suffering from tropical infections that have failed to receive priority in pharmaceutical research and development programs, as well as in public health policies aimed at improving availability and access to preventive, diagnostic and curative medicine. The World Health Organization has issued a number of documents directing attention to the plight affecting one third of the world’s population, assisted by active support from private organizations, notably the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, but the overall situation remains dismal.

In the wake of major socioeconomic processes including globalization, steadily growing economic disparity, healthcare inequality, the instability created by rogue states and terrorism, as well as massive migration, and epidemic outbreaks, the features of neglected diseases have been changing. Neglected populations affected by tropical diseases are suffering increasingly from non-infectious degenerative conditions and disabilities due to untreated chronic maladies. Pockets of poverty and neglect can also be detected in high-income countries, contributing to the emergence of new diseases and the reemergence of infections believed to be disappearing such as tuberculosis and the measles.

Included in the issues of neglect are rare diseases, mostly of genetic origin, affecting a small number of patients that suffer from multiple life-shortening functional impairment and organ defects. Effective medicines are extremely expensive, allegedly because research and development of appropriate drugs is resources and time consuming, requiring exorbitant prices to recoup investment from a small number of consumers.

Bioethics has been tardy in addressing the suffering and destitution of neglected and rare diseases. Convinced that permanently repeated denunciations blunt the sensitivity towards suffering, whereas statistics are bloodless and unable to elicit commitment, this book attempts to explore a different strategy. In an upstream approach, bioethics needs to engage in ethnographic fieldwork that confronts and shares the context in which people suffer, vividly presenting what epidemiological research has blunted into statistical data. Additionally, a downstream approach is suggested, requiring bioethics to vigorously and openly denounce unethical biomedical and pharmaceutical research, misdeeds in registration and marketing of drugs, and misalignment of policies with the unmet healthcare needs of the destitute. More than being critical observers, bioethicists ought to shed lurking conflicts of interests and seek active participation in planning research and public healthcare practices aimed at improving the lives of medically neglected populations.
(Imprint: Nova Medicine and Health)

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