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April 23, 2019

Admiral Timothy Ziemer’s Leadership Toolbox Blog Post

by Danielle Shapiro

On March 26, 2019, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer (retired) visited our Conversations in Global Health course to discuss his journey within global health and give us a look into his leadership techniques. Although he currently stands as a prominent leader in global health, his leadership skills are applicable to any discipline. His story illuminates how passion and cooperation can instigate change. 

We often hear stories of global health leaders starting off as aspiring doctors, politicians, or public health experts. Ziemer, however, did not become a global health advocate through a conventional path. Ziemer was raised in Southeast Asia by missionary parents and grew up speaking the local mountain dialect before learning English. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois with a major in history, and joined the military immediately after. His first tour with the U.S. Navy turned into a thirty-year career. Although Ziemer had no intention to devote thirty years to the military, he was recognized for his ability to engage with communities and continued his service. His ability to communicate and keep a team motivated and focused was extraordinary; Ziemer was built to be a leader. 

After the military, Ziemer joined a faith-based NGO called World Relief, where he soon became the executive director. Although unconventional, Ziemer attributes his leadership success to listening to others and earning respect. Working for World Relief taught Ziemer about the complexities of development and prepared him for success in his global health career. He separated development into five sections: health, agriculture, microfinance, resettling of displaced people, and disaster response. Each element, although intertwined, must be given adequate attention and dealt with separately, and so Ziemer did just that. Ziemer’s categorization strategy allowed him to become a successful leader of development. 

Former President Bush recognized Ziemer’s leadership skills, and nominated him to lead the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2006. Ziemer decided to focus his work on the health aspect of development. He translated his leadership experience from the military and World Relief to PMI and USAID. 

PMI focused on controlling malaria in Africa and was a collaborative U.S. government effort led by USAID, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of State, the White House, and others. Because PMI united so many groups, Ziemer emphasized the importance of fostering a community within the organization. He explained that groups often have different expectations and priorities. Because of this, it is vital to identify objectives and settle differences early on. In order for any progress to be made, people must listen to one another and understand each other’s concerns. Although Ziemer did not have direct experience in the global health field, his ability to unite and motivate a team has earned him recognition as one of public health's most effective leaders.

At Georgetown, many of us are constantly stressed about our futures and how our majors will translate into jobs after graduation. But Ziemer's journey in global health highlights that we can become leaders in any field and make a difference if we are passionate, considerate of others’ opinions, and ready to learn.

 Danielle Shapiro (COL’20) is a junior in the College, majoring in biology of global health and minoring in disability studies.

This blog was written by a student in Georgetown’s Conversations in Global Health course, which brings leaders in global health to Georgetown to discuss their careers and work.

April 23, 2019

A Hands-on Experience in Access to Medicines Advocacy Blog Post

by Joelle Ofimboudem

At noon on Thursday, February 7, 2019, I stood near Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) on Capitol Hill as he gave a press conference on a bill that would address the prescription drug affordability crisis in the United States: the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act. This bill would authorize the secretary of health and human services (HHS) to negotiate drug prices covered by Medicare's prescription drug benefit with drug companies. Under the bill, the secretary of HHS could issue a competitive license to a company that is willing and able to produce the generic version of a medication if drug companies refuse to negotiate in good faith. The bill was introduced in Congress later that Thursday.

One might understand why access to medicines remains a problem in low-income countries where some people live on less than $2 per day. But access to medicines is also a problem in the United States: research indicates that one-third of Americans skipped medication or split pills last year because they could not afford them. The United States also pays more for medicines than other high-income countries, even though the U.S. government funds more research and development (R&D) than other developed countries. According to Congressman Lloyd Doggett , between 2010 and 2016, all medicines developed and marketed by pharmaceutical companies received government funding. 

The reasons for this are manifold. First, drug manufacturers in the United States, unlike in other high-income countries, are free to charge the highest price the market can bear on medicines. The same medication in the same packaging costs way more in the United States than in neighboring Canada and Mexico, according to a study by Monali Bhosle and  Rajesh Balkrishnan. Second, while it is true that R&D is expensive, research indicates that only about 20 percent of the amount that pharmaceutical companies claim as R&D costs is spent on R&D, while 70 percent of that amount is spent on marketing and advertising. These costs are shifted to and borne by consumers, resulting in higher cost of medicines here in the United States. Third, three-quarters of the medicines introduced to the market in the last decade are recycled or repurposed existing medicines, patented as though they were new, creating patent thickets. The patent system allows pharmaceutical companies to obtain patent protection over new formulations and other minor changes to existing medicines. They also commercialize them at high cost while investing very little in developing these ‘me too’ medicines.

Although the current bill, if voted into law, would allow the secretary of HHS to issue a competitive license if pharmaceutical companies refuse to negotiate in good faith, other measures should be envisaged by the U.S. government to provide a lasting solution to access to medicines in the United States. Some of these measures include: modifying the patent laws to ensure that patents and/or other forms of monopoly are only available for medicines with added therapeutic value to patients and not ‘me too’ medicines, so as to compel pharmaceutical companies to spend more on R&D; restrict advertisements which cause patients to favor expensive brand medicines over generic substitutes; prohibit price increases on existing medicines; prevent secondary patents and patent thickets; ensure transparency in agreements between pharmaceutical companies to ensure there are no pays for delays on the launch of generics.

Joelle Ofimboudem (LL.M.'19) is a graduate student in the Global Health Law LL.M. program at the Law Center, and a student fellow with the Global Health Initiative.