Onchoceriasis: A Debate Between Social Responsibility and Profit

by stel0851 on February 8, 2015 - 1:41pm

Onchoceriasis, also known as River Blindness, is an infection caused by a parasitic worm, which can be transmitted through black fly bites (“Onchoceriasis”).  This bite can lead to blindness, and affects 18 million people in Central and Western Africa and some places in Central America (“Merck Offers Free Distribution of New River Blindness Drug”). Merck is a pharmaceutical company that has developed a drug to treat River Blindness, however the market for the drug cannot afford it. This situation and those similar raise an ethical dilemma, what responsibility do pharmaceutical companies have to develop drugs to treat diseases and epidemics that do not generate economic benefits for the company? There will be both a positive and a negative impact on the companies in this situation.  One could argue that if you have the means and the power to do good for people who are suffering whether you will have a significant financial benefit or not is it their duty and social responsibility to do so. However, on the other end of the spectrum, companies are in business to make money and have a responsibility to their shareholders to generate profit.

Teleology is a way of thinking that defines morality as the result or the end goal, which is called the “summum bonum”. Directly translated, the summum bonum is “the highest good” and according to the Utilitarianism way of thinking this means the greatest good for the greatest amount of people or the greatest good for humanity (Merill 25). Personally, I believe this is the simple answer to the moral dilemma many pharmaceutical companies are facing. As a result of human generosity, the greatest possible good, health, will be achieved for a greater number of people. Although companies are established with the goal of making money, it is important to also recognize the power that they posses, the power to maintain human lives through healthcare. It can be argued that the summum bonum would be different for different people, and it is impossible to determine one for the entire population. However, I would argue in defense, that if you could isolate pharmaceutical companies as a whole, their summum bonum should be something in common, the health of the population.

Therefore, the answer to the original question is simple, pharmaceutical companies have the greatest responsibility to cure what they can cure, and produce drugs for everyone in need, no matter the financial compensation that they will receive.  Although it is easier said than done, and in the short term the companies may be losing money,  I believe that in the long term, there are significant benefits to be gain by exhibiting a commitment to social good. Apart from the direct human impact of saving lives and improving quality of live, of allowing the greatest number of people possible to achieve health, investors, employees and consumers will know and acknowledge the good they have done and in turn they may receive more compensation than originally suspected. Due to employee’s newfound loyalty or motivation, investor’s rewarding socially responsible companies and consumers who may purchase more products from a company that they know is doing good for others. To conclude, it would be ideal to live in a world where we are not lead only by the likelihood of receiving financial compensation when referring to someone’s health however, we do, and therefore the responsibility lies on the companies who are willing to look beyond the dollars and realize they have the greatest responsibility and power to achieve human health. 

Works Cited


“Merck Offers Free Distribution of New River Blindness Drug.” The New York Times.  The New York Times, 22 Oct. 1987.      

          Web. 1 Feb. 2015

Merill, John C. Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

“Onchoceriasis.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 7 Feb. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.