Behind the scenes the past 10 years, the pharmaceutical industry has been going through some important changes in how it responds to the need for medicines and vaccines in developing countries.

The AIDS epidemic in many developing countries was the tipping point and set the changes in motion.

Now, the global health community faces a different, but just as challenging task: to address the mounting threats of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases (collectively called noncommunicable diseases or NCDs).

The pharmaceutical industry responded to calls for action and on June 16 announced at the United Nations in New York a Framework for Action for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

These NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide, killing prematurely more than 36 million people in 2008; a number projected to increase by over 20 percent globally by 2020, to 44 million deaths.

Of great concern is the fact that nearly 80 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. While it was and remains essential to keep focused on research and development of new medicines and vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry wants to build from experience and contribute to addressing global health challenges.

The NCD 10-Point Framework for Action sends a clear message that the pharmaceutical industry today is ready to act quickly, creatively and flexibly so as to make sure that vital medicines reach the patients in need in the developing world.

The Framework focuses on innovation, access and affordability, prevention and health education; it also underscores the essential role of partnerships and dialogue. We have identified ten areas where we believe the R&D-based pharmaceutical industry can, with the involvement of key partners, put in place concrete programs to tackle NCDs in the developing world.

Thankfully, we won’t be starting from scratch. The main contribution of the research-based pharmaceutical industry to improved global health has been, and will continue to be, its unique role in developing new medicines and vaccines for all diseases. Our industry currently has over 1,500 medicines in the pipeline for major NCDs.

In addition, over the last decade pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars in public-private partnerships, R&D of new treatments specifically for developing world patients, and transfer of technology to improve health in low and middle income countries.

Between 2004 and 2008, the industry provided nearly $26 billion worth of health assistance for access and capacity building in developing countries.

Today, there are over 200 programs funded by the pharmaceutical industry that serve to meet the Millennium Development Goals, and indeed nearly a quarter of these programs already target NCDs.

For example, we have a diabetes health care professionals program in India and a breast cancer awareness and diagnosis program in Ethiopia.

The NCD framework shows our vision to take this effort one major step further. Just this past month, we have partnered with the World Health Professions Alliance to develop an NCD scorecard and an NCD prevention campaign that will reach over 26 million health care professionals in more than 130 countries to help encourage patients to identify and prevent risky behaviors.

The NCD Framework for Action has not been conceived in a vacuum; our thinking endeavours to support the World Health Organisation Action Plan on NCDs and the recent NCD resolution passed this May by the nearly 200 countries represented at the World Health Assembly.

We invite others — WHO, governments, civil society, academia and patient groups — to join us and inform our work. Our NCD Framework for Action identifies those areas where we can make a difference.

But ultimately, finding solutions to the health and economic threat posed by the rapid increase in NCDs is everyone’s business. Governments must strengthen health care systems.

Civil society, health professionals, the media, and the business community can play a fundamental role in increasing awareness and education, improving early detection and disease surveillance, and facilitating the implementation of prevention programs.

Our industry’s motivation is to make a difference for the women and men in developing countries who are often struck down with disease in their prime and whose families sacrifice so much to try to help them.

We hope that the world hears their plight and that the U.N. High Level Meeting to be held in September will be able to carve out a plan of action that addresses this great challenge.

We hope today and in the months to come to show that the R&D pharmaceutical industry is ready to step up to the plate.

Eduardo Pisani is director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical and Manufacturers Association (www.ifpma.org).

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