Saturday, March 15, 2014

The prize must be socialism

Pharmaceuticals is a multi-billion dollar global industry and SOYMB blog has frequently exposed the fact that profits determine the well-being of the sick and infirm. We make no apologies for repeating ourselves. Dr Manica Balasegaram, Executive Director of Medecins Sans Frontieres' Access Campaign, is also critical of the commercial priorities of the drug-makers.

“Medicine is expensive, sure, but have you ever asked yourself why? The pharmaceutical industry will have you believe that without high prices, we don't get new drugs. The reality is, with high prices we don't always get new drugs we need either. If a new drug is developed and nobody can afford it, where is the benefit from it?” he writes in an Al Jazeera article “As it currently stands, patents create long monopolies, which allow pharmaceutical companies to charge the maximum price they can without fear of competition. Patients and health providers are put in a near-impossible predicament: Either they pay the market rate, or they wait until the maximum profits have been squeezed out of a drug and its patent expires. Waiting in many cases means dying.”

The only people satisfied by this current system are the shareholders of pharmaceutical companies.

He points out that there are some diseases for which there have been no new drugs developed for half a century or more. It's because - while the need is there - these drugs just aren't profitable for the pharmaceutical companies to do research on them. The British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced it was pulling out of R&D for malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases. They're all diseases that occur, for the most part, in poor countries. Instead, they'll be concentrating on drugs for typically rich country diseases: cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 Just as we're facing superbugs that can't be killed with existing antibiotics, there are no new ones in the development pipeline. We're seeing people die of infections we can no longer treat with the antibiotics we have. But the pharmaceutical companies don't want to pour their R&D into a drug that people only take for a couple of weeks; they want to develop drugs you need to take for a lifetime.

What is Balasegaram’s answer. Disappointingly it is prize funds - that reward new discoveries through substantial financial payouts, paid on the condition that the drug is immediately open to price-lowering market competition.

Socialism, a system of production for needs and not for profits, is not some academic theory but a matter of life and death and without demanding and working for the end of capitalism, Balasegaram will not see the end of unnecessary suffering.

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