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Non-profits light the way

Saturday December 2, 2006

Ken Burnett

Black fever, also known as kala-azar, is the world?s most deadly parasitic disease after malaria. Each year it kills about 500,000 people, who rapidly lose weight and die painfully with swollen livers and spleens. Its victims are united by one factor that alone explains why, until now, the disease has been uncontrolled.

Years ago a treatment for black fever was found; however, the pharmaceutical companies saw no profit in it because all those who suffer from black fever are poor. So the drug was shelved.

Now a remarkable new kind of charity, a not-for-profit pharmaceutical company called the Institute for One World Health (IOWH), has resurrected the shelved drug, paromomyocin, proved its efficacy to the Indian government and, with funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is planning to make it available in the worst-affected parts of India. In tests 94.6% of patients treated with paromomyocin were cured. The drug costs $10 per patient, less than one-tenth of any available alternative.

Having proved the concept, the IOWH is moving on to tackle malaria and diarrhoea.

The institute is the brainchild of a remarkable American woman, Victoria Hale. Before attracting the funding their idea deserves, Dr Hale and her husband devoted 2 years and much of their money to building the IOWH as the first non-profit pharmaceutical company.

There?s much that such innovative enterprises could do, and not just in pharmaceuticals. Why not encourage non-profit seed companies, management consultants, travel companies, water companies, even non-profit training companies?

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