Economics

The Guardian development blog is running a series of end of year reflections on development, including one by me. Many of the articles are upbeat about progress in developing countries, but pessimistic about the short term economic prospects for the industrialised world and for global cooperation to tackle shared global problems.

The series so far includes:

  • Duncan Green from Oxfam, who contrasts progress in developing countries over the last year with the gloom of the ‘formerly rich’ countries of the G-8.
  • Calestous Juma from Harvard, who identifies regional integration and better links with the diaspora as key drivers of Africa’s growth.
  • Shanta Devarajan from the World Bank, who is cautiously optimistic, especially in the light  of increased demand by Africans for their governments to be accountable.
  • Linda Raftree from Plan, who also emphasizes progress towards more inclusive and open societies.
  • Kevin Watkins from Brookings and UNESCO, calling for “a properly financed global fund for education like those that have delivered such striking results in the health sector“.
  • Jonathan Glennie from ODI and the Guardian, who is pessimistic about the prospects for international cooperation in the face of rising protectionism and nationalism as a result of poor economic prospects in the US and Europe.
  • and my contribution, reproduced below, which gives a positive account of progress in many countries in Africa over the past year, and emphasizes the importance for developing countries of better global decision-making.

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Duncan Green has been awaiting ”the inevitable response from Owen” to a recent post by Dr Kamal-Yanni of Oxfam and Daniel Berman of Médecins Sans Frontières about different approaches to getting vaccines into developing countries. The main point of disagreement is how vaccines first developed with rich countries in mind can best be made available quickly and at an affordable price in developing countries.  This is an important issue because we have a poor record of making these vaccines available, which is part of the reason that 2 million people die each year of vaccine-preventable diseases.

There is a separate but related question of how we can get vaccines to be developed in the first place to protect against diseases which do not much affect people in rich countries. On this we apparently agree that it is a good idea to test commercial incentives such as Advance Market Commitments.

For vaccines developed primarily for industrialised countries, my view – which I expressed in an earlier blog post – is that we should use aid to make it more attractive, and more profitable, for pharmaceutical companies to invest in making these vaccines available in developing countries. The view of Dr Kamal-Yanni and Daniel Berman is that, on the contrary, we should “err on the side of the poor” by holding down prices, making these markets less profitable.

My ‘inevitable response’ is now on the CGD global health blog (and reproduced below).  It is all a bit down in the weeds, but the main point is that it is simplistic to suggest that existing vaccines (for example, against pneumococcal infection) can simply be rolled out at marginal cost in the developing world. I explain why in in the blog post. Unless we do something to make these markets more attractive for the private sector, we will continue to see delays in access to vaccines in poor countries.  In these circumstances, insisting on keeping prices down errs on the side of the ideology, not the side of the poor.

As always it would be great to have your views: comments are open on the CGD blog.

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There seems to be some confusion about what the international definition of poverty actually means.

The Millennium Development Goal is to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the number proportion of people living in extreme poverty.  The poverty line was… Continue reading

On World Food Day let us remember Sen's insight that hunger is not a problem of food production but of poverty. The fact that most poor people work in agriculture suggests that a good way to escape poverty is to get out of agriculture.  So the best way to reduce hunger and help people out of poverty may be to focus not on improving agriculture, but rather on helping people who want to leave agriculture into more rewarding work.

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