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Whose duty is it to fight diseases of the poor? book asks

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Neglected sickness stems from lack of profit, law professor says
By Deborah Gyapong
Photo caption: University of Ottawa adjunct law professor Thana de Campos released a new book entitled The Global Health Cirsis: Ethical Responsibilities. (Deborah Gyapong / CNS)
Diseases like Zika, Ebola, and leprosy will remain “neglected diseases” as long as they mainly hit the world’s poor populations, says a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Thana de Campos says the diseases are neglected because “pharmaceutical companies don’t have marketing incentives to do research for these populations and these diseases,” said de Campos. She describes that as “an ethical problem and a legal problem.”
On May 5, de Campos launched her book The Global Health Crisis: Ethical Responsibilities, examining the problems from a Catholic natural law perspective.
The book, published by Cambridge University Press, examines whether wealthier societies have a responsibility to fight these diseases, “even though these people are far away from us.”
“Are they our neighbours somehow?” she asked. “Because of globalization, the world is more united and inter-dependent, so it’s hard to argue we are not responsible for these people in Africa, Latin America, or Asia.”
She uses Catholic social teaching and the writings of Thomas Aquinas, “who would say we have a responsibility to help the poor, especially when we have a super-abundance,” de Campos said. She tried to give a natural law framework to what the United Nations would call “global justice” by using Catholic social teaching concepts such as subsidiarity and solidarity.
She examines the duties individual citizens, civil society, pharmaceutical companies, and governments in wealthy countries have to the poor in other countries. 
The book also examines the legal problem, because “there is a legal structure that kind of justifies the neglect,” she said. “The intellectual property rights system is not wired to incentivize this kind of research. It’s only linked to profit.”
“These diseases won’t generate profit,” she said. The inability to make a profit “justifies the companies’ not being interested,” something that in itself is “not wrong or sinful.”
De Campos’ interest in these questions arose when she was working on her master’s degree and applied for a research position at the United Nations in Geneva to learn about differing views on the issue.
The UN had a special rapporteur for discussing this issue, but people “couldn’t agree on what approach they should have,” de Campos said. “All agreed the issue of the ‘neglected diseases’ was important, but they could not agree on ‘what is the responsibility, what is health, what is justice, what do we owe to each other?’” de Campos said. “These are the kinds of things I try to address in the book.”

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