Jim Yong Kim: The Case for Cheaper Antibiotics

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who is Jim Yong Kim in Mountains Beyond Mountains? How did he contribute to lowering the price of antibiotics for treating multi-drug resistant tuberculosis?

Jim Yong Kim is a Korean-American physician who co-founded Partners in Health, a non-profit organization committed to bringing medical care to those in need. Kim helped increase access to treatment for MDR tuberculosis.

Read more to learn how Jim Yong Kim contributed to lowering the price of antibiotics for MDR TB treatment.

Jim Yong Kim’s Case for Cheaper Antibiotics

Jim Young Kim is a Koren-American physician who co-founded Partners in Health and worked with his long-time colleague Paul Farmer (also a doctor and an anthropologist) to raise funding for treating tuberculosis in Peru. Their efforts were successful, but Kim realized that a more long-term solution was needed to lower the cost of the antibiotic drugs, especially the ones used to treat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

Drug prices depend on the quantities made and the companies making them. Big companies often charge more money for a drug than smaller companies that make the same drug. If they could find smaller drug companies that already made the antibiotics, or convince small companies that didn’t make them to start, they could reduce costs by around 95 percent.

Jim realized that it would be easier to convince smaller drug companies to make the antibiotics if the WHO designated the medicines as “essential.” Despite the prevalence of TB in the world, the drugs weren’t listed as “essential” because they were infrequently used relative to other more common drugs. Members of the WHO considered it dangerous to list the drugs as essential because it would lower the costs and make them widely available, potentially fueling antibiotic resistance. 

But Jim Yong Kim argued that as they’d witnessed in Peru, drug resistance was already a phenomenon, and would merely get worse without access to appropriate, inexpensive drugs. Kim also advocated for the creation of a committee to control the distribution of the antibiotics used to treat MDR patients—any project attempting to treat TB or MDR patients had to have an already established plan for treating TB and minimizing drug-resistance.

The WHO agreed to add the antibiotics to its essential list, which in turn led to more small manufacturers making the drugs and the costs dropping 84-95 percent.

Jim Yong Kim: The Case for Cheaper Antibiotics

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  • How Dr. Paul Farmer came to operate a hospital in Haiti
  • What the connection is between sorcery and tuberculosis
  • How Dr. Farmer's organization is a model for treating patients in poor countries

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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