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From: The Socialist issue 193, 16 February 2001: "Bog Off" Blair

Search site for keywords: Drugs - Pharmaceutical - Africa - AIDS

Drugs giants scramble for profits

THIS WEEK, two competing journals claimed they'd revealed the entire genetic code of a human.

Roger Shrives

This genome map could potentially lead to new breakthroughs in the treatment of life-threatening illnesses and help people lead a longer, higher quality life.

A future article will look at the discovery's significance. But, unfortunately big business will aim to control this breakthrough as they already control the pharmaceutical industry. Big business interests will be more concerned with making billions of pounds profit than in medical science.

Millions of people in the ex-colonial world are still dying as a result of illnesses such as meningitis, tuberculosis and malaria. Why is this? Because multinational pharmaceutical firms charge health services in the ex-colonial world so much for their drugs.

42 top pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSmithKline are bringing a court case against the South African government over drugs which control or ameliorate Aids. Around three-quarters of the 34 million people worldwide with the HIV virus, which causes Aids, live in sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa's government buys and manufactures cheap generic drugs which cost about one-tenth as much as health services pay in the West.

The pharmaceutical giants want to protect their profits. If Third-World countries could get cheaper drugs, it could push down profits in their huge markets in North America, Japan and Europe.

The World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) insists that WTO member states put the rights of patent holders (overwhelmingly rich companies in wealthy countries) above those of the sick. If not they face trade sanctions.

Who helped draft the Trips agreement? The pharmaceutical giants. They're backed up by George W Bush's Republican government who received 70% of the drugs giants' huge $24 million political war chest.

Lobbying from the US drug industry (which makes an incredible 36% return on investment) makes sure that the US government puts its interests ahead of those of the Third World's sick and dying

We say bring the pharmaceutical industry and scientific research into public ownership worldwide to make sure the race for profit doesn't wreck the genome project as it threatens to wreck the world's access to vital drugs.

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