Antibiotic Shortage: Limiting Access to Increase Profit

Views on antibiotics have changed over the years. It used to be that the standard was to have doctors prescribe antibiotics for the littlest ailments. Now, doctors are to be more cautious when prescribing antibiotics and only prescribe them if it’s absolutely necessary. For antibiotics, it’s beneficial for pharmaceutical companies to limit the drug’s effectiveness so that the bacteria is eliminated at a level that doesn’t produce symptoms in the patient, but isn’t eliminated from the patient completely. This causes patients to get “cured” and then treated again and that cycle continues (Altstedter & Trivedi, 2017). At the same time, it can spread to other patients. Big Pharma has no incentive to cure people. The profits are in treatment options because patients have to consistently receive medication.

The reasoning for the need to decrease the distribution of antibiotics is because bacteria can become resistant overtime if they have more opportunities to encounter the drugs. This has happened in India and is becoming a major public health issue. Medical experts believe the nation has one of the highest levels of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the world (Altstedter & Trivedo, 2017). As a result, Prime Minister Modi enacted regulation to preserve the effectiveness of bedaquiline, a drug used to treat tuberculosis. In India, the drug can only be dispensed through a government program as a last treatment option.

On one side, the effectiveness of drugs needs to be maintained not only for being able to treat the sickest patients, but also to prolong the period of time that Big Pharma can profit from their latest drug discoveries. Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at Princeton, says that “It’s a public health issue that we get to control access to this drug, make sure someone who is absolutely dying of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis is the one who gets to have it” (Altstedter & Trivedo, 2017). On the other hand, patients need to have access to certain life-saving drugs. Jennifer Furin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, believes that India is turning medical issues into bureaucratic issues (Altstedter & Trivedo, 2017).