- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

In this season of giving, it is a sleigh-sized irony that the global pharmaceutical industry behaves like Santa, yet often is denounced as a multinational Scrooge.

The drug industry “needs to moderate its prices and make them more transparent and equitable,” Harvard Medical School lecturer Marcia Angell, M.D. wrote in the Financial Times last July. “In short, it needs to curb its greed.”

Liberal columnist Molly Ivins has decried Big Pharma’s “greedy, bloodsucking, murderous behavior all over the globe.” Having failed to defeat President Bush, radical documentarian Michael Moore has shaved his beard and aimed his lens at the drug industry. His new title? “Sicko.”

These caricatures completely ignore major drug companies’ donations of enormous amounts of lifesaving products to poor Third Worlders.

A recent Hudson Institute study illustrates this prescription philanthropy. In “A Review of Pharmaceutical Company Contributions: HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Other Infectious Diseases,” Carol Adelman and Jeremiah Norris document the value of drugs this industry handed out to some of Earth’s most desperate people.

Last year alone, nine major drug companies donated $2.135 billion in products and services to combat HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other tropical ailments. This sum, the authors say, “remains a conservative figure since it does not include cause-related marketing or philanthropic contributions by overseas affiliates.”

Abbott, Becton-Dickinson, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer and Wyeth donated $1.4 billion in drugs and medical devices; $210 million in in-country logistics, storage, administration, and time volunteered by medical professionals; $210 million in taxes, tariffs and customs duties; $175 million in additional projects outside an industry consortium called the Partnership for Quality Medicines Donations (PQMD); and $140 million for transportation, insurance and handling.

Despite the alleged avarice of the “mean, nasty” drug companies, this $2.135 billion in medical charity far outpaced the financial commitment of “caring, loving” government agencies that reputedly “put people before profits.” Compare Big Pharma’s foreign aid with public-sector donors in 2003:

• The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Global Health Budget stood at $1.374 billion.

• The World Health Organization’s budget was $1.37 billion.

• European Commission spending on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria totaled $451 million.

In 1958, the World Council of Churches asked each developed nation to give poor countries 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product annually.

While Miss Adelman and Mr. Norris report that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development “has since abandoned this percentage,” as have most wealthy nations, the PQMD companies’ $2.135 billion in pharmaceutical gifts equaled 0.95 percent of their $224.3 billion in combined 2003 revenues.

Huge numbers aside, consider just three projects these corporations financed:

• Pfizer donated $48 million to overseas HIV/AIDS programs, including $39 million in medication. Last October, it opened a $15 million testing and training facility in Kampala, Uganda. It will treat 10,000 AIDS patients annually. Pfizer also linked University of Utah medical specialists with 250 of their African counterparts at Uganda’s Makerere University. Each African is expected to instruct 10 others. (Full disclosure: Pfizer has paid me to address several corporate events.)

• Glaxo last year distributed, at discounted rates, 27,000 antiretroviral HIV/AIDS treatments to patients in 56 nations.

• Merck shielded 40 million Africans from river blindness in 2003. While ingesting Mectazin tablets has transformed the black fly from an opthalmological nightmare into a dermatological nuisance, 62.5 million acres of once-abandoned, fly-infested riversides have been repopulated. As river blindness fades to black, that property, Mr. Norris says, now produces enough food to nourish 17 million people.

So, what are the pharmaceutical sector’s motives? Drug executives simply could have huge hearts and, literally, boatloads of compassion. Perhaps this largess is a coldly calculated business technique to appease angry activists and assuage regulatory busybodies. Maybe it is a mixture of both. That hardly matters to vulnerable Third Worlders. America’s supposedly villainous drug firms stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these people as they battle disease.

If anything, the pharmaceutical sector can be faulted for being so bafflingly bashful about publicizing their great works around the world. Without their 10-figure philanthropy, millions of destitute Africans, Asians and Latin Americans simply would have spent this Christmas Day face-down in the dirt.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a Senior Fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va.



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