Getting drugs to people who can’t afford them means: • lowering prices (by encouraging generic competition, local production, global purchasing and discounted branded drugs) • fighting punitive patenting regulations • supporting health ministries’ efforts to improve access • backing research for drugs for neglected diseases • urging international agencies like the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNICEF to uphold the public health agenda. For more information see Médecins Sans Frontière’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. www.accessmed-msf.org Rue du Lac 12, PO Box 6090, CH-1211 Geneva 6, Switzerland. Tel : +41 22 849 84 05 Fax : +41 22 849 84 04
Oxfam has teamed up with other non-governmental organizations for its Cut the Cost Campaign. www.oxfam.org/eng/campaignscampcutcost.htm
Listen to healthcare providers and policymakers debate issues around essential drugs by joining the e-drug mailing list or reading the vast archive.
For a more mainstream view, check out also the WHO’s essential medicines programme.
Corporate research groups often provide invaluable information on Big Pharma’s influence and nefarious lobbying.
Corporate Watch www.corporatewatch.org
Multinational Monitor www.multinationalmonitor.org
Corporate Europe Observatory www.xs4all.nlceo
Companies spend a fortune hoping to influence both consumers and doctors. Promotions often skim over risks and can be misleading. Keeping a watchful eye is Australia’s Healthy Skepticism (formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing).
Taking on Big Pharma’s drug peddling in the Majority World, especially from a safety angle is the German Buko Pharma campaign.
No Free Lunch is a coalition of healthcare providers in the US campaigning against drug reps and their gifts.
See also the WHO/NGO Drug Promotion Database.
Drug safety and rational use
Health Action International is a global network of health, development, consumer and other public interest groups in more than 70 countries. www.haiweb.org
HAI is co-ordinated by its office in the Netherlands. HAI Europe, Jacob van Lennepkade 334-T, 1053 NJ Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Tel: +31 20 683 3684 Fax: +31 20 685 5002. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Concerned with the power of Big Pharma and currently concentrating on antidepressants is the British group Social Audit.
Public Citizen’s Health Research Group has blown the whistle on numerous dangerous drugs.
More technical information comes from the Canadian Therapeutics Initiative.
Intellectual property rights
Groups like MSF and HAI (see above) report regularly on the convoluted international discussions on patents that are vital to countries being able either to produce or buy cheaper generic medicines. But for a forensic analysis, look at the Consumer Project on Technology.
Big Pharma’s search for genetic therapies has led to a rash of bio-prospecting (mainly in the Majority World) and a slew of patents on life. Most academics working in biotechnology seek to profit commercially from their work, too, conflicts of interest notwithstanding. The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration is your best guide.
The Alliance for Human Research Protection is dedicated to ethical medical research where human subjects are involved and is vigilant in tracking down malpractice.
Drug testing on animals is attacked on grounds of cruelty and for providing results that cannot be trusted for human use anyway. Research using human cells and tissues would be more compelling – but it is also more expensive for the drug companies. Anti-vivisection groups BUAV and Uncaged present the case cogently.
Prefer a book in your hands?
Then read Jeffrey Robinson’s Prescription Games (Simon & Schuster 2001) for a no-holds barred exposé of Big Pharma’s dirtiest dealings and John le Carré’s thriller The Constant Gardener (Sceptre 2002) which insiders claim is not far from the truth.
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