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Fired up by Fire in the Blood
A story of big business cruelty and neglect
Paul Heron reviews the film 'Fire in the Blood', directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, to be released on 22 February.
This excellent documentary plots the story of how the multinational pharmaceutical industry denied essential medication to tens of millions of people in the developing world affected by HIV and Aids.
Fire in the Blood is a story of unfathomable cruelty and neglect as Western neoliberal governments did the bidding of the powerful pharmaceutical industry.
By effectively blockading low cost Aids drugs to the developing world it is estimated that ten million people died. In pursuit of profit, lives and communities were destroyed.
The film explores why the system governing the development and commercialisation of medicine is deeply flawed and discriminates against those who cannot afford to pay.
It shows how very few patents are new, novel or improved and how patent monopolies have been established to maximise profiteering.
Those patents are used to focus on high-priced products for the richest in the west, but as the film points out even people in the west, particularly in the US are also being 'priced out' of the market.
As a result of the neoliberal agenda, western governments are now the bag carriers to the pharma industry as they pursue bigger profits for their shareholders.
The film explains how treaties are used to prevent affordable generic drugs, particularly from India, reaching the developing world.
Indeed in the field of 'research and development', globally governments and other public sources fund this to the tune of 84%; only 12% of such research is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Only 1.3% of the profits of the multinationals goes into new drug discovery research.
As the former CEO of Pfizer comments in the film, people pay for the drugs twice once, through taxes, and then to the pharmaceutical industry.
The statistics are damning but Fire in the Blood is a human story. It shows the devastating impact on lives, how millions died, and communities were devastated.
It disproportionately affected working class communities and the poorest particularly in Africa.
But it also tells you about the fightback amongst the medical profession, the lawyers, but above all the working class, and how a combination of mass campaigns, and indeed breaking the law, won a campaign for affordable generic 'first-line' antiretrovirals (ARVs).
However, the film also carries a warning. Millions of people with HIV/Aids in the developing world, whose lives were saved by these first-line ARVs will at some point need to switch to the more complex second and third line ARVs.
Not surprisingly these are not available in generic form and the multinationals recently took steps under new trade agreements - under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation - to ensure that the next battle will not be lost by them so easily to allow cheaper generic drugs.
This film shows the mass campaigns fought to break the cartel of greedy multinationals and exposes the effective genocide of ten million people.
It fills the viewer with a feeling of betrayal by governments in the pocket of big business and shows the desperate need for socialised medicine, with health systems nationalised under democratic workers' control.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 4 January 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.