Wednesday, March 11, 2015

# 149 It Just Isn't Right

Picture the scene of us cruising down the grocery aisle when, between the yogurt and the orange juice, an older man stopped Rob and asked him if he had been in Africa--Rob had a shirt with Africa/Peace Corps/ elephants blaring from his chest.  After we exchanged pleasantries, this gentleman explained he had been to Africa on charity missions for thirty years and then began a three minute tirade about how the pharmaceutical companies are not allowing the African countries access to the cheapest and best drugs to combat Aids.  He shared statistics and was clearly passionate about this injustice.  Three minutes is a long exchange in a grocery store with a complete stranger which started me thinking about it a day later and I couldn't get this wiggle out of my brain.  The question that kept repeating itself was:  What right does a company have to refrain from providing generic medication to prevent massive numbers of people from dying?

A little research on the internet opened my eyes to a shocking revelation.  Why are we not screaming from the highest rafters that this is not acceptable?   Not only is it unfair but morally and ethically it seems outrageous.  The article below gives a summary on what is happening with our drug companies in America. Something is wrong here and I'm not sure what the solution is but it appears that the decisions the large companies make has more to do with the almighty dollar than with saving people's lives.  When did their moral compass go awry to allow this to happen?

What to do?  The power of letter writing may make a difference so if you are inclined, send a letter stating your concern to your Representative.

Big pharma's excuses for the monopolies on medicine won't wash

Several years ago, I began to learn about what I would come to regard as one of the great crimes in human history, whereby millions of people in Africa and elsewhere were cynically allowed to die of Aids, while western governments and pharmaceutical companies blocked access to available low-cost medication. The outrage I felt as I discovered the details of this story was exceeded only by a deep sense of betrayal mixed with shame for not having known more about it in the first place. 

Why does society accept this? The narrative the industry has been immensely successful in selling is that it spends vast sums of money on research and development, that this R&D is very high risk, and that monopolies and high prices are a "necessary evil" needed to finance innovation of new medicines. These arguments do not hold up under scrutiny. 84% of worldwide funding for drug discovery research comes from government and public sources, against just 12% from pharma companies, which on average spend 19 times more on marketing than they do on basic research (paywalled link). When we screened our film at the Sundance festival last month, audiences were dismayed to learn how much of their tax money goes to discover medicines which are then sold back to them at monopoly prices nearly half of all Americans surveyed say they have trouble affording.

In developing countries, where people typically pay for medicines out of pocket, the situation is far worse. Pharmaceutical company representatives have told me that in (relatively prosperous) South Africa, they price their products for the top 5% of the market, while in India their customer base might be just the top 1.5%. The rest of the population is of no interest. At the same time, drug companies are working tooth-and-nail to cut off supplies of lower-cost generic drugs originating in countries such as India, Brazil and Thailand, to make sure that they don't miss out on a single customer who could possibly pay their sky-high prices.

This year may well be a tipping point. Relentless pressure is being applied to poor countries by western governments determined to strangle supplies of lower-cost medication relied upon by the vast majority of the world's people who will never be able to afford branded drugs, and the outlook for access to medicine in the global south grows bleaker by the day. As unthinkable as it may seem, the horror that saw millions of people die unnecessarily of HIV/Aids while being denied safe and effective generic medicines produced at a fraction of the prices brand-name companies were charging, could be a mere taste of things to come.

To read more about this travesty, go to

Thanks for reading # 149 of 7777.

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