Glaxo Smith Kline, Bristol-Myers Squbb, and AIDS in Africa case Case summary

The Glaxo Smith Kline, Bristol-Myers Squbb, and AIDS in Africa case present ethical scenarios of enormous ethical implications. The case mainly touches on issues of AIDS patients’ medication, patents and intellectual property rights and economic fairness.  The companies discussed in this case, Glaxo Smith Kline and Bristol-Myers Squibb, are renowned manufacturers of different drugs and health care products. These companies hold the patents and intellectual property rights to some of the most effect antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV, or provide therapy to HIV patient around the world. Since HIV/AIDS is a global deserter affecting large numbers of populations across the world, the drugs are on high demand. The United Nations estimate that about 40 million individuals worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, 70%, which is about 28 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (ABC News 158).

The large patient population means there is a great need for the anti-retroviral drugs around the world. However, the companies that hold the patents to the drugs and manufacture the drugs price the drugs at a figure most people in the world especially, in developing countries such as sub-Sahara Africa cannot afford. The companies charge about $10,000 to $15,000 for a year’s supply of the drug (ABC News 158). This is far beyond what most of the patients in sub-Saharan African can afford give that most household in the region maker an income $500 annually (ABC News 158).

Despite making enormous profits, the companies still feel they are justified to charge high cost to the patients giving a number of reasons such as the cost of research and developing the medicines and the cost of manufacturing them. Although studies prove that the companies’ reasons are not valid since the companies did not conduct research on their own, but benefited from research conducted by universities and governments, the companies reject the finding of these studies and continue to charge high prices.  Additionally, the studies have proved that the companies can lower the cost of the drugs and still maker reasonable profits since they have profit margins of up to 30% (ABC News 158).

Additionally, the companies were requested to sell drugs to developing countries in sub-Saharan African at reduced prices to enable the patients in these regions to access the therapies, but the companies declined stating the reasons mention above. The companies also added that they did not have adequate personnel to monitor the administration of the therapies in the third world countries, and this would have likely led to inconsistencies that would have resulted in the development of drug resistant HIV strains (ABC News 159).

This reason was also countered through studies, which showed that patients in developing world had the ability to monitor their therapies with the support of semi-skilled personnel. To make the matters worse, the companies successfully lobbied the World Trade Organisations to help them enforce patent laws in its member states. Developing countries were given more time before they could conform to patent laws. Indian companies started manufacturing the drugs and selling them at a cheaper price of about $350 a year forcing the other drug companies to lower their cost to $9500 a year (ABC News 161). All these events have enormous ethical implications.

Date Collection and interpreting

This case provided adequate date for analysis of the ethical issues associated with patent and intellectual property rights, economic fairness and issues revolving around HIV medication.  Additional data will be provided by secondary source the evaluate the ethical issues involved in the conduct of pharmaceutical companies such as Glaxo Smith Kline and Bristol-Myers Squbb, which seek great economic benefits without considerations towards the plight of the patients who are their main clients. Intellectual property rights and patent are unfair yet activities of companies such as the Indian companies that choose to ignore the rights have ethical implications.

Critical ethical issues

There are several critical ethical issues affecting stakeholders at different levels. Mostly the issues are closely related with the problems experienced by the various stakeholders.  The stakeholder levels are individual level, organizational level and societal level.  Individuals do not have adequate funds to buy the antiretroviral drugs. For instance, in sub-Saharan African, most families have an income of $500 a year yet the main pharmaceutical companies sell the drugs at $10,000 a year (ABC News 158).  The income of sub-Saharan families still cannot enable them to afford the Indian made antiretroviral which go at $350 a year. Their problem is that they do not have the economic capacity to buy the drugs. However, they face an ethical dilemma since the resource they have could enable them manufacture antiretroviral drugs cheaply in their countries with the help of their governments yet patents held by the large pharmaceutical restrict them.

At the organisational level are pharmaceutical companies such as Glaxo Smith Kline and Bristol-Myers Squbb. These companies feel that they invested heavily in research and development of the antiretroviral drugs and, as a result, should be protected from copycats to enable them recuperate their investments (ABC News 159). Furthermore, they feel that they need to sell their drugs at high prices in order to meet the cost of research and fund new research.  Their desire leads them to the ethical problem of having to deny patients the right to access medication through exuberant prices. The disregard of the patent right by Indian pharmaceutical companies is yet another problem the major pharmaceutical have to contend with.

The societies suffer enormous losses due to AIDS patients’ deaths. In many place in the sub-Sahara Africa children have been orphaned due to HIV (ABC News 158). The governments in such areas are torn between respecting the patent and intellectual property rights held by the pharmaceutical companies while their citizens continue to die and disregarding the patent and intellectual property rights in order to manufacture their own drugs. These are great ethical dilemmas that governments in sub-Saharan African have to deal with especially since most of them do not have the ability to pay the prices demanded by the large pharmaceutical companies.

Ethical frameworks

There are various ethical frameworks that relate to the problems and ethical scenarios experienced by the stakeholders in this cases study. Individuals and societies approach the issues from a utilitarian perspective. They desire solutions that will have maximum benefits to all the parties involved (Brusseau). For instance, there is no need for a few companies to make huge profits while many people die for lack of access to medications. This is why organisations like doctors without borders believes that the pharmaceutical companies can still make profits with lowered prices that will enable patients in developing world to access medication. The issue of individual rights is evident in the problem experienced by individual patients and the companies.  Patients have a right to medication and should not be denied the opportunity to access medication for therapy. Similar individual companies have a right to their inventions.

The pharmaceuticals perceive the protection of their drugs through patents and intellectual property right as just since law permits such practices. On the other hand, they feel that the activities of the Indian companies which combine the drugs to manufacture their own version of antiretroviral drugs are illegal and therefore unjust. From a cost-benefit analysis perspective, pharmaceutical companies believe that lowering the drug prices for third world countries would reduce their profit margins; furthermore, their profits in developed nations would reduce since cheap drugs would be smuggled from developing nations to developed ones. The plight of the patient in the third world country can be addressed through the ethics of care. Ethics of care apply in situations where some parties deserve special consideration. Because of their economic situation, patient in sub-Saharan Africa deserve a special consideration from pharmaceutical companies. This exhibits duty towards none another (Brusseau). The companies should be able to reduce drug prices for these patients to show their concern. Virtue ethics, on the other hand, support doing what is right (Brusseau). It is right to allow the companies to benefit from their inventions; however, it is not right for the companies to exploit the opportunity by charging patients highly.

Garnering solution

Since this is a multiple stakeholder issues, solutions generated for the issues must meet the needs of all stakeholders. In addition, all the stakeholders should participate in the generating the solutions. All the necessary ethical principle should be looked upon to provide a guideline for generation of a proper solution. Although it never easy to meet the needs of everyone, the proper solution should try to provide greater benefits from all the parties’ involved. It should borrow from utilitarian ethical framework.

  1. Possible legal solutions
  1. Create and enforce laws that set prices for antiretroviral drugs
  2. Enforce laws that push pharmaceutical companies to licence other companies in third world countries to produce drugs
  1. Possible legal but unethical solutions
  1. Restrict to production of the drugs to the companies the poses the patents
  2. Force the company that poses the patents to allow other companies manufacture the drugs without proper compensation or arrangement with the patent holders.
  1. Possible ethical solutions
  1. Enforce laws that push pharmaceutical companies to licence other companies in third world countries to produce drugs at cheaper production cost so as to lower prices


Best solution

The best solution is one which provides economic solutions, moral/ethical solutions and legal solutions. Enforce laws that push pharmaceutical companies to licence other companies in third world countries to produce drugs is the best solutions since it is legal to licence other companies to produce products for patent holders. Economical, it reduces the production cost incurred by the patent holders and the transportation cost they would be incurred shipping the drugs from developed countries to developing nation. This in turn reduces the prices.  Ethical, the companies’ right to protect their inventions would not be violated, and the right of patients to get affordable drugs, as well as the companies’ ethics of care towards the patients, would be achieved.

Work Cited

ABC News. Glaxo Smith Kline, Bristol-Myers Squbb, and AIDS in Africa case. In The Business systems: Governments, Markets and International Trade.
Brusseau, James. Business Ethics Workshop, Edition 1. FlatWorldKnowledge 2014. Intenet Sources <>