Research Universities Neglecting Social Responsibilities

Last week a study discovered that while research universities are pouring millions into their research departments, these departments are neglecting one of the world’s most pressing issues: disease in developing countries.

While universities develop a substantial portion of the world’s medical innovations, millions of people worldwide are still dying of completely curable diseases due to a lack of research dollars going into medicines for diseases that affect the poor; or when these medicines are developed, inhibitive costs or limited access mean that they are unattainable by those who actually need them.

The University Global Health Impact Report Card was put together by Universities Allied for Essential Medicine (UAEM) to judge the level of social responsibility undertaken by major research universities. This university student run organization is committed to ensuring that medicines for what they termed “neglected diseases” will be developed and affordable.

Their report card indicated that the majority of major research universities in the United States and Canada (including our own) are not as committed to research in the area of neglected diseases as they are in a position to be. Advocates believe that such universities and their research could be the deciding factor in the development of cures for neglected diseases, yet of the 54 graded, only one received an A (the University of British Columbia) while the majority received C’s and D’s.

The University of Washington was given a C overall, through an averaging of innovation (C-), access (C), and empowerment (B). These categories judged whether or not the university funded research into cures for neglected diseases, and whether their licensing criteria allowed for easy access to the medicine for those in developing nations.

Researchers found that this type of licensing did not have any impact on a university’s research funds, and there was therefore little reason for them to hoard their newly discovered technologies. While UW has declared its support for global access licensing, it has yet to formulate any specific methods for the promotion of access through licensing.

UW does not have a research center devoted to the study of neglected diseases, and designates only 3.05 percent of its research budget for neglected disease research, and only 2.63 percent of its infrastructure budget for providing capacity, such as training and equipment, for such research.

The university does, however, have a study track devoted to global health, and which teaches students the importance of neglected disease research as well as the need for global access.

To learn more about how universities can affect neglected diseases, visit uaem.org.