Asian Bioethics Review

, Volume 9, Issue 1–2, pp 87–101 | Cite as

Selling pharmaceuticals ethically in resource-limited settings: the case of Sofosbuvir

  • Carl H. Coleman
  • Calvin Wai Loon Ho
Original Paper


In countries without universal health insurance systems, is it ethically acceptable for pharmaceutical companies to sell their products only to the relatively small segment of the population that can afford private insurance coverage or to pay for medications out of pocket? Are there certain drugs that companies should be expected to sell in these economies even if they are unable to do so profitably? Within a human rights framework, this paper identifies these and related ethical challenges and proposes some responses. The paper begins by considering general ethical responsibilities that arise from commitment to the Universal Health Coverage initiative as a Sustainable Development Goal. It then discusses ethical responsibilities on the part of pharmaceutical companies as distinct from those of national governments or the broader international community. Some proposals follow for thinking through specific ethical challenges that arise when making decisions about whether, and on what terms, to introduce a new drug into a particular setting. Finally, the paper considers a number of these issues and responses in the context of the sale of sofosbuvir in the Asia-Pacific region.


Pharmaceuticals Developing economies Emerging markets Equity Access to medicines Corporate social responsibility 


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Copyright information

© National University of Singapore and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Seton Hall University School of LawNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Yong Loo Lin School of MedicineNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.WHO Collaborating Centre for Bioethics (Singapore)SingaporeSingapore

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