Harvard Law and Global Access to Drugs

William W. Fisher

Credit: Johansen Krause William W. Fisher

Across HLS, faculty are focusing on international access to lifesaving drugs for underserved populations. One forthcoming book, “The Health Crisis in the Developing World and What We Should Do About It,” by Professor William W. Fisher ’82 and Talha Syed, addresses just such issues.

“We need to immunize residents (preferably while they are children) against the diseases that are transmitted in ways we can’t block,” says Fisher, “and we need to provide infected people with medicines that will save their lives, or at least make their lives bearable.”

In the book, Fisher compares the handling of pharmaceutical products in developing countries to Steinbeck’s depiction of the Great Depression in “The Grapes of Wrath.” There, in order to protect the market and demand, fruit is burned rather than given to starving migrants from the drought-stricken center of the country.

Fisher goes on to argue not only that we have failed to “stimulate the development of an arsenal of drugs that would enable us to cure or treat the diseases that are ravaging the developing world” but that lack of incentive has also resulted in a failure to produce the kinds of vaccines and drugs that would eradicate those diseases entirely, or at least shield people against them.

In the end, Fisher’s goal is to determine how the laws and institutions that historically cultivated new pharmaceutical products and then channeled their distribution might be adjusted to generate vaccines and drugs for neglected diseases. And, he hopes to determine how to then make those vaccines and drugs available to the people who need them.