A development project in Bangladesh is taking on the multinational pharmaceutical companies. Gonoshasthaya Kendra (The People’s Health Centre) has built a pharmaceutical factory, which produces 11 medicines, selling them under their generic names for prices from 30 to 50 per cent lower than their competitors. And their competitors are big guns: Hoechst, Squibb, Fisons and eight other multinational drug companies which control 80 per cent of the pharmaceuticals trade in Bangladesh.
Now in its seventh month of production, the factory has issued a direct challenge to the multinationals and the socioeconomic system they represent by staging a conference on the transfer of technology to the Third World.
The pharmaceutical factory, Gonoshasthaya Pharmaceuticals (GPL), grew out of the concerns of the parent project, an integrated health and development center in a rural area 22 miles from Dacca city. The health center began on a shoestring following the 1971 war, but soon knocked down some sacred notions of the medical profession by training not only paramedics for village work, but paramedics who performed simple surgery, including the female sterilization operation, the minilaparascotomy.
After half a decade of primary health work, the Kendra saw that their health work could have only a limited impact Far better, they thought, to begin an enterprise that could benefit people around the country. Village work showed them that many patients bought unnecessary medicines: too many antibiotics, too many analgesics, and too many vitamin tonics and elixirs, mostly manufactured and pushed in ad campaigns by multinational companies. GPL makes only medicines on the WHO’s list of essential drugs, and by wholesaling them for low prices hopes to relieve poor patients of the need to spend huge chunks of their scarce resources for health care.
The multinationals themselves were also an obstacle. Currently, GPL sells 70 per cent of its production to the government In one big tender offer, GPL bid too high because of expensive raw materials. After another company won the tender, raw materials prices suddenly dropped. Later, GPL discovered that the raw materials company they had been working with was owned by the wives of the managers of several other national and multinational companies. In another tender loss GPL later discovered that the eight largest multinationals and three largest national companies had secretly met beforehand.
GPL has survived all these onslaughts so far, but now has to face the challenge of middlemen who recognize high quality medicines when they see them, and so are charging high prices for GPL products —sometimes higher even than for those of the multinational competition.
The pattern of middlemen raking off as much profit as they can is common to most industries, the conference emphasised. Multinationals control 70 per cent of the worldwide pharmaceuticals market, according to John S. Yudkin, a London physician. And developing countries often spend up to thirty per cent of their health budgets on imported drugs.
Alternatives to the present system discussed included more primary health care delivered by appropriately skilled workers, traditional medicines including unrani, herbal and ayurvedic, and acupuncture as a cheap and easily taught and delivered pain-killer. Speakers stressed, however, that governments would have to cooperate with such new methods. They advocated immediate adoption of essential drug policies, which could save both countries’ money as well as patients’ and sometimes, their lives as well.
Finally, as David Werner, author of the popular text on primary health care, Where There Is No Doctor, said: after 17 years of working with the Project Piaxtla health programme in Mexico, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that health care is much more of a political than a purely medical problem, and that all the improvements in health care delivery and all the cheaper drugs in the world would not affect the underlying causes of ill-health. Those will only be changed through the political process itself.
A final note of hope was struck by Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, chairman of the pharmaceutical factory, GPL, who said that the government had agreed to launch a joint enterprise with GPL in restarting a pharmaceutical plant under GPL management that had closed under government management Like GPL, this factory will be producing high-quality generic drugs, for sale at low prices and for distribution through government channels. This could be the first step, Dr. Chowdury said, to more rational drug policies in Bangladesh.
Armies in exile
WHETHER Nicaragua is being used as a conduit for military supplies to the rebels in El Salvador is open to question. What is not in the least open to doubt is that the United States is acting as a conduit for military activity against three of the smaller nations in its ‘backyard’.
Exiles from Nicaragua, Panama and Cuba are being trained at military camps in Florida with the aim of overthrowing the governments in their own countries.
An issue of Caribbean Contact in February, for example, carried a report of the paramilitary training at a camp near the Everglades. Exiles receive training in urban warfare, guerilla tactics, day and night navigation, frogman skills and parachute jumping, Former American army rangers and Vietnam veterans are among the instructors.
According to Hector Fabian, one of the directors of the camp, 100 trained men have already infiltrated Nicaragua and one was killed on its northern border.
‘Our goal is the liberation of Nicaragua, Cuba and Panama,’ he said. ‘The struggle in Nicaragua is more advanced and we have intensified our efforts.’ Finance for these operations is coming from Cuban and Panamanian exiles as well as from the proceeds of fund-raising drives by Nicaraguans opposed to the Sandinista regime.
That the United States knows about the intentions of the Latin exiles is not in doubt Thomas Enders, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American affairs has acknowledged that ‘diplomats of Nicaragua have raised it to our attention a number of times’. He added however that ‘as long as they don’t hurt anybody and as long as they don’t actually conspire to invade in a specific way’ then the exiles aren’t breaking any laws.
This depends on your interpretation of US law and in particular the 1794 Neutrality Act Even Mr. Fabian himself has said, that ‘Under the Carter and Nixon Administrations what we were doing was a crime. With the Reagan Administration noone has bothered us for ten months.’
FULLY aware that its Pacific nuclear testing ground — Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia — is badly battered, leaking radioactivity and possibly sinking, the French government is now considering whether its nuclear roadshow should now move on and wreak havoc elsewhere.
This time it seems that evidence about Muroroa could not be brushed aside as pacifist propaganda. Most of it came from the French Atomic Energy Commission itself — or, at least, disgruntled engineers working for it The engineers claim that the atoll has sunk one and a half metres since testing went underground in 1975 and that radioactive waste, buried on the sinking islands, has been disturbed by Pacific storms. In Australia there is talk of below water-line cracks in Moruroa, some more than a metre wide and up to 800 metres long.
These latest reports come in the wake of a long saga of French ineptitude and irresponsibility which have resulted in tidal waves, the deaths of decontamination squad workers, misfirings, and the suspicion that there is much wrong with the health of French Polynesians that Paris has been busily keeping under wraps.
No Pacific Islands nation or territory approves of what France is doing on Moruroa; not even Australia and New Zealand, loyal supporters of Washington’s highly nuclear presence in the Pacific Ocean. But, ironically, as Europe comes alive to the growing threat of a nuclear Armageddon, protest by Pacific Islands leaders — apart from the voice of one newly-emerged nation Vanuatu — appears to have been overcome by fatalistic acceptance that no one will stop the French unless they stop themselves.
There were two main Pacific Islands conferences last year. The South Pacific Forum included independent Islands nations plus Australia and New Zealand. And in addition there was the South Pacific Conference — the one annual meeting which brings together every Pacific Islands nation and colony plus their past and present colonial masters. At both of these there was the usual condemnation of French activities. The Conference called for an end to French testing and for Japan to abandon its plans to dump radioactive waste between Japan and the Northern Marianas in Micronesia.
But only the Pacific Islands nation of Vanuatu, spearheaded by its Anglican priest Prime Minister Walter Lini, performed with fire in its belly. Lini told delegates that the declaration ‘of our Pacific Ocean as a nuclear free zone’ was a matter of’ life and death’. Nuclear activity in the Pacific, he said, was the ‘very worst form of colonialism’.
READERS of our, Global Report’ issue (NI No. 107) and the story about Bent Gronvold will remember that, when we spoke to her, she was giving her support to the Sami people of northern Norway. They were protesting against the construction of the Alta dam on Sami land by chaining themselves to the construction equipment
Now it seems that the demonstrations have had to stop. Due to the extremely high fines levied against those arrested, all further actions have been called off by the leaders of the ‘Peoples’ Action’. Over $860,000 has so far been levied. Alfred Nielsen, spokesperson for the group, said that police have been given the power to collect the money directly from the employers of those people involved. However, the group’s work on spreading information about Alta, plus work on raising money to pay the fines,will continue.
Over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday, the construction area was very calm, with only 50 police present, compared with over 400 when construction was restarted last October.
It is feared that, having no further recourse to non-violent civil disobedience tactics, opponents will turn to more violent, anonymous actions. Sigmund Kvaloy, a noted Norwegian philosopher, created a stir when he wrote recently in the environmental magazine Miliomagasinet that ‘the environmental movement may have to use dynamite in the fight against the (Alta) project’. Earlier this winter, an attempt to blow up a bridge connecting the construction site to the nearest highway failed only because it was not properly placed. The Sami groups involved in the fight against the dam immediately renounced such tactics, claiming that non-violence was the only form of action they would employ.
The Alta/Kautokeino dam site is located in the extreme reaches of northern Norway, and will supply less than one per cent of Norway’s electrical needs.
PRIOR to the revolution in Angola in 1975, brothers Alfred and Hose lived as migrant workers in neighbouring Namibia One was a handyman and the other a miner. Today they find themselves back in Namibia, but now as homeless and destitute refugees.
They had to recross the border after the South African ‘Protea’ operation late last year in southern Angola. This was aimed at the SWAPO guerillas who had been using bases in Angola from which to launch their offensives against South Africa’s control of Namibia.
Alfred, the elder of the brothers, said:
‘The South African soldiers forced us here. They say we were giving food to SWAPO, and they burnt our kraals and corn and threatened to kill us unless we moved into Namibia. Later on UNITA forces came along and drove away our cattle.’ UNITA are the South African-backed anti-government forces in Angola.
Clutching a portable radio, the only possession he managed to bring with him, Alfred explained that the smallholding they had lived on in Angola was fertile enough to enable them to feed themselves and their families.
Alfred and Hose are two of the thousands of refugees who poured into Namibia following Operation Protea. Other refugees spoke of how the South African army had threatened to kill them unless they moved south. One man with only the torn clothes he was wearing, a home made knife dangling from his belt and a few goats as his possessions, claimed that people were being killed if they did not obey soldiers’ orders.
The local authorities have put the official figure of Angolan refugees in Namibia at 800. Others in the area claim that the refugee figure is far higher — well over 1,000.
The South African Army cited ‘the general war’ as the reason for the refugee situation. On previous occasions they have stated that SWAPO forces in search of food were hounding the people out But in all the interviews with refugees, none have said that they were harrassed by SWAPO forces.
Frans Lucas, a refugee from Oneleen, said: ‘We know who UNITA are because they wear the same boots and carry the same rifles as the South African soldiers. Since the liberation of Angola from the Portuguese colonisers, UNITA has been playing a destabilising role in southern Africa. Besides the direct assistance
UNITA has been receiving from the South African Army in the form of bases, arms and training, UNITA has been helped in its task by the large scale invasions of the South African Army into Angola.
The aim of these invasions, it seems, is to devastate southern Angola and to transform the region into a ‘buffer zone' in which the movement of SWAPO forces may be more easily monitored and countered. Certainly, the South African authorities also wish Angola to pay a high price for harbouring SWAPO bases in its territory.
The civilians in southern Angola are bearing the full cost of this strategy. The response of the local Namibian authorities to the refugees is to issue them with refugee identification cards and — if they are lucky— a single fish and a small tin of corn meal per family per day. The authorities’ view is that if the refugees speak the local language, which nearly all of them do, they will ‘automatically’ be absorbed into the local population.
But conditions for the refugees are difficult Some are lucky enough to have been able to bring some of their cattle and possessions — some feel they are lucky to have escaped with their lives. Families are being scattered between different relatives or places of shelter.
The people of southern Angola have lived through a state of war since the early 1960s, and the South African invasions and continued harassment of the population by UNITA rebels come as added blows to them. Unless a just and peaceful solution is quickly found, southern Angolans will join the local civilians in the border areas in bearing the brunt of the war for Namibia.
Harambee African News Service