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World needs to ensure the poor’s right to medicine

Multinational drug companies have to be controlled by strict laws to save lives, protect the people, and nurture health

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World needs to ensure the poor’s right to medicine

In this undated handout photograph released on July 3, 2020 by Zydus Cadila pharmaceutical company, a pharmaceutics worker shows a shot of a vaccine developed by Zydus Cadila to treat the COVID-19 after it received governmental approval to start clinical trials, in Ahmedabad. (Handout / Zydus Cadila / AFP)

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People sick from Covid-19 in Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and the rest of Asia gasping and struggling to recover in a hospital bed will have to fight harder to survive. It is because Remdesivir, the only drug known to help patients to improve quicker, is unavailable.

The United States has bought up the entire available supply of this drug, and it is only available to Americans suffering from Covid-19. Donald Trump, aiming to cover up his neglect to stop the spread of the pandemic and boost his re-election bid, is depriving others of a fair share of the available drug manufactured by the American company, Gilead Sciences of California.

This manipulation and fast grabbing of the drug for a selfish monopoly over vital medicines have severe, deadly consequences for the future when a vaccine becomes available. The United States will attempt to buy all available vaccines for Americans and deprive other nations of a fair share.

In May this year, the French vaccine company Sanofi said the US would get the first supply if ever it made a successful vaccine since the US took the risk and invested in it. This infuriated the French government, and Sanofi said it would share the vaccine if it succeeds in making it.

The entire supply of Remdesivir, half a million doses, has been cornered by Trump. That is the whole production of Gilead until September 2020. It is an innovator drug under patent by Gilead, so no other company can make it no matter how many people will have to suffer longer to recover from Covid-19.

To recover, a patient needs six doses of Remdesivir, and that cost US$3,200. So Gilead profits from human suffering, and the majority without expensive health insurance could not afford it anyway. It’s a medicine for the rich only. All this is happening while the pandemic is rocketing out of control. At least 130,000 have died in the US, and more than 2.5 million are infected.

Trump has benefited yet again his close friends in the pharmaceutical industry. Retired executives have big jobs in his administration. They helped to get him elected by donating huge sums of money from the Big Pharma corporations to his political campaigns.

Another successful drug found to help patients is the steroid dexamethasone. Trump can’t grab the world supply because it is 60 years old and manufactured as a generic drug and low-cost everywhere.

Drug companies in India and Bangladesh also make Remdesivir as they do not recognize the twenty-year patent rights of Gilead Sciences. However, reports say, stocks are meager, and it is only available on the black market at hugely inflated prices. So it is in developing countries where generic drugs challenge brand named patented medicines. Yet not all medicines have low-cost generic counterparts.

In a World Health Organization(WHO)-funded research project in the Philippines, an Ateneo group found that the prices of medications are so expensive a government worker could not afford them. That’s enough to cause depression.

The Ateneo study said, “Some standard treatments are very unaffordable to the lowest-paid government worker. In the private sector, a month’s treatment of depression with innovator brand Fluoxetine costs the lowest-paid government worker 49 days wages! The treatment of a peptic ulcer costs 8.5 days wages when innovator brands are prescribed or dispensed, and still costs three days’ wages if generics are used.” Since that study, the costs of medicines have greatly increased.

In a shocking finding, the study said the price gouging profit mark-up was massive. “Wholesale and retail mark-ups can reach 65 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Using these maximum figures, if mark-ups were removed, the cumulative mark-up would decrease from 273 to 51 percent. If wholesale and retail mark-ups were halved, the cumulative mark-up would decrease to 150 percent. Similarly, if medicines were exempt from import tariffs (3.84 percent), national corporate taxes (5.7 percent), and VAT (12 percent), the maximum cumulative mark-up would decrease by 69 percent, from 273 percent to 204 percent. Tax exemptions for medicines and the regulation of mark-ups should, therefore, be examined as possible policy options for reducing medicine prices,” the study said in conclusion.

The poor cannot afford, many of these drugs imported from the United States. When they need to take a seven to ten-day treatment with antibiotics, they can’t afford it and stop after about three days, which allows the bacteria to develop immunity to the antibiotic. Many die as a result.

The multinational pharmaceutical corporations are indeed like dangerous monsters in that they prey on the sickness and weakness of many people. They have been shown to have created addictions to sell billions of dollars’ worth of opiate drugs and recruited unethical doctors to prescribe them.

In October 2019, four US pharmaceutical companies were to stand trial in Ohio for causing an opioid drug epidemic with their narcotic painkillers by claiming the drugs were safe. They faced allegations of conspiracy to multiply the number of patients addicted to prescribed drugs. At the last minute, they capitulated, admitted responsibility, and paid out US$260 million in the first round of compensation payments for causing addiction, suffering, and death of 400,000 people in the past twenty years in parts of Ohio. As much as fifty billion dollars is being claimed for wanton conspiracy. Other drug companies are facing similar claims.

The multinational drug companies have to be controlled by strict laws everywhere to save lives, protect the people, and nurture health. Taxes on life-saving medications must be removed and governments should bring in Universal Health Care and fund it and strictly control the bidding and purchase of drugs. Governments must preserve the lives and well-being of the people, not allow corrupt corporations and politicians to subvert it.

Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, works in the Philippines. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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