S Africa versus Big Pharma

African Business, April 2001 | Go to article overview

S Africa versus Big Pharma


ANVER VERSI

There was a time when the medical profession and everybody else involved in the finding cures for mankind's many illnesses, took the Hippocratic Oath seriously. Before they began their new profession, doctors swore that they would do everything their exclusive knowledge had empowered them to do in order to save lives and reduce suffering.

In some societies, such as the early Persian empire -- where medical knowledge had advanced very considerably -- doctors never received cash payment for their services. Their profession was deemed too important to be traded merely for money. Instead they were respected and honoured, wealthy patrons making sure their material needs were met.

For several centuries, this ethic permeated the medical world all over the globe. Now things have changed out of all recognition. This is the age of Big Pharma -- a cartel of biggest and most influential drug companies in the western hemisphere. Their only ethic, their only morality, their only religion is the clink of silver on silver.

Their greed is such that they are prepared to sit back and watch millions suffer and die rather than loosen even a fraction of their stranglehold on the poor. The on-going court case in which 39 of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies are trying to prevent the South African government from purchasing cheaper generic drugs is a shameful case in point.

If money corrupts, then big money corrupts absolutely.

The entire drugs market in Africa accounts for less than 1% of the drug companies' international turnover. In order to protect this tiny slice, they are willing to see untold and needless suffering. Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath? Where is the commitment to saving human life?

It is like controlling the only source of water and denying people dying of thirst even a drop unless they can cough up large sums of money they don't have.

In fact it is worse. The pharmaceutical companies are now actively trying to prevent the South African government from purchasing cheaper varieties of the same drugs. This is like not only controlling the supply of water, but preventing anybody else from getting water to the people who need it most. And all for what? A few more coins to add to the immense pile that has been built up our of human misery and suffering?

What do they expect the South African government to do? Sit on their hands while their people suffer needlessly? Needlessly, because similar drugs can be purchased at a price South Africa can afford, but they run the risk is of being sued, and worse yet, having sanctions imposed on them.

Thabo Mbeki has bitten the bullet and done the only decent and humane thing he can. …

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