issue 158 - April 1986
Coils of wrongdoing
Dangers of the medical market-place
Some drug companies profit by selling inadequately tested - and thus dangerous - contraceptive devices. Searle, the makers of the Copper 7 intrauterine device (IUD), have recently been accused of failing to test their product properly. These charges come after the manufacturer of the Dalkon Shield IUD has been successfully sued for the same reason (See NI 144). Now 700 law-suits have been filed in the US accusing the Copper 7 of causing pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and ectopic pregnancies.
Purchased in 1971 from its Chilean inventor, Searle's device was classified as a drug since it contained copper and so caused a chemical reaction in the body. This meant that, unlike the Dalkon Shield which was made of plastic, it had to be tested in order to gain the necessary approval.
Although initial tests on animals showed some indications of malignant cell transformations, the reports provided by Searle - a pharmaceutical giant - softened the impact of these findings. A large clinical sample of 16,000 women showed a reported rate of 2.02 per cent cases of pelvic inflammatory disease - a relatively low figure for what was known to be one of the major hazards of IUD use.
The reason for this low rate was that the forms used by Searle for the tests had no space for a doctor to note whether a user had pelvic inflammatory disease. The actual rate may have been as high as 6.6 per cent.
Nonetheless the Copper 7 was given Federal approval in 1974 and Searle launched a major and successful marketing campaign. Within two years of its introduction the Copper 7 captured more than 30 per cent of the market. Over the next eight years its share rose to an estimated 90 per cent.
Pre-trial hearings have begun in the US. A number of cases have been heard. One Copper 7 victim has been awarded $350,000 in damages. Several other cases have been settled out of court. Searle have now withdrawn from the US LUD market. The Copper 7 has ceased to be profitable due to the compensation they have paid. But Searle are continuing the sell Copper 7s outside the US.
THE ARMS RACE
Gaps and gaffes
In the age of nuclear-speak the numbers game has always been the biggest game in town. No one wants to lose the 'nuclear edge' to the opponent. Herewith a few case histories.
In the 1950s It was the 'Bomber Gap.'
The fear was that the Russians would have 600 - 700 long-range bombers by 1960. What they actually had by then was 190. Throughout the life of the gap, the US apparently always had a superiority of at least 300 bombers.
In the 1960s, the 'Missile Gap.'
The USSR was expected to have 500 - 1,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles by 1961.
Later it turned out that what they actually had then was 10.
And the 'ABM Gap.'
The USSR was expected to have by the early 1960s 10,000 interceptors in a nation-wide anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system.
The actual count proved to be64 interceptors and essentially a defense against bombers rather than missiles.
In the 1970s, the 'Hard-Target-Kill Gap.'
New Soviet missiles, the SS19 in particular, were judged accurate enough to destroy all US land-based missiles.
Assessments in the 1980s found this unrealistic for several reasons; among them, the SS-19 was found to be less accurate than originally gauged by more than one-third.
In the 1980s, the 'Spending Gap.'
An unrestrained growth in Soviet military' spending, plus the presumed danger to the ICBMs, had opened a 'window of vulnerability' in US defenses.
A CIA re-assessment in 1983 showed that Soviet procurement had levelled off during 1977 - 81 and that the increase in overall spending was half earlier projections.
From 'World Military and Social Expenditures 1985' by Ruth Leger Sivard.
Killing with kindness
Pesticides overuse encouraged
SUBSIDIES encourage Third World farmers to use excessive amounts of pesticides, says a recent report by the World Resources Institute. About 35,000 people in the poor world are poisoned by pesticides each year, and 10,000 die. Pesticide use also means that traditional forms of agriculture - which do not poison the environment - are disappearing.
The cost of subsidising pesticides is immense. The report states that in countries like Egypt and Indonesia the total cost runs into hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In small countries such as Honduras or Ghana it is equivalent to between $1.50 - $3.00 a year per head of population.
But only one of nine Third World countries examined by the Report has questioned the wisdom of continuing to subsidise the use of pesticides. Wealthier land owners gain the most from continuing the status quo. It is on their large cash-crop estates that the returns are highest, whilst the adverse effects - of poisoning, contaminated food and water - affect low-income households.
The World Bank is also unwittingly contributing to increased pesticide use, despite having guidelines warning of its dangers. It gives subsidies for chemicals when a certain proportion of a crop is going to be destroyed by insects. But the Bank's subsidies artificially lower the amount of tolerable crop loss. So farmers use pesticides even though - prior to the Bank's intervention - they would not have considered them necessary.
The World Resources Institute says that it is up to development agencies and governments to question the use of subsidies.
SEED-BEDS have become hot-beds of change as Nicaragua has launched itself into the seed-producing market. With a wide grin, scientist Aurelio Ilano leaned across his desk in the newly opened National Genetic Resources Center: 'Did you know that Nicaragua is exporting revolution?' Not waiting for a reply, he opened his hand to display three beans: 'Revolution 79, Revolution 82 and Revolution 83'. He laughed happily. 'These are local varieties we have adapted. Now we are exporting them to Costa Rica, Honduras and even El Salvador. 'Except there', his grin widened, 'they are called R-79, R-82 and R83!'
Once Nicaragua was the main distribution point for the multinational Pioneer HiBred's Central American seed distribution. The company left after the Revolution and took with it most of the trained personnel needed to clean and grade seeds and keep machinery running. Faced with the company's hasty exit, the Sandinistas discarded the facility that was too complex for local needs and began learning about seed processing and conservation.
The result is a Nicaraguan seed distribution and a conservation strategy on the scale being applied to the Amazon. Plants have been collected and documented from as far away as Peru and Mexico. The involvement of campesinos as curators is central to the program. Peasant farmers and co-operatives will be asked to conserve endangered stocks - like fruit trees and maize - on their own land. Farmers will be paid for their contributions, to emphasise their importance and to compensate for any lost productivity.
With 11,000 contras in the countryside, outside observers might find it hard to understand Nicaragua's concern for plant conservation. But as the Sandinistas see it, national security is impossible without food security and food security is impossible unless the country controls and develops its crop resources. The contras seem to agree. One evening near Esteli, we went to see the potato seed harvest at a new co-operative. The potatoes had been donated by Canada's National Farmers' Union. The women and men coming in from the fields were carrying a bag of seed over one shoulder and a rifle over the other. It was a graphic reminder that in Nicaragua seed has become a strategic raw material.
Pat Roy Mooney
Tourism's toil in East Africa
RECENTLY I saw for myself how tourism can widen the gap between rich and poor. I was on a week's safari to Lake Turkana, in Kenya. Our party stopped at the entrance to the range of blue-grey Ndoto mountains, close to a small river running on a stony bed. We wanted to see the Samburu, the tribal people who lived there.
A group of four men and two women stepped across the bare ground to view us. The young warriors carried carved wooden spears with beaten iron heads. One of the women - she looked just a girl - carried a baby hung inside her navy khanga, its big-eyed face stuck to her breast. None of the six spoke. They stood straight-backed and looked at us impassively.
'Can you ask them if we can take pictures. Find out how much they want.' The senior guide, in a blue cotton suit, negotiated with the barely clothed warriors. They wore only body drapes, one with a blaze of saffron fabric across his shining skin. The Samburu required 15 Kenyan shillings from each of the nine photographers (about $5 in total). We agreed and gave the money to the guide, whom turn gave it to one of the men. 'Can you tell them to stand over there, against the trees.' The Samburu backed across the dirt track and onto the lumpy verge.
'Can you move the women away.' As I heard the authoritative voice again, I noticed that these were orders, not questions. The guide spoke and the women shifted to the left until they were clear of one viewfinder. 'They look posed. Can you get them to talk to each other, amongst themselves, so that they look natural.'
I emerged from behind my camera to observe the bewildered men complying half-heartedly with the guide's message. The eyes of the Samburu turned in their sockets as they attempted to speak of nothing. They may or may not have been happy with the crisp banknotes knotted in their clothing, but I was upset by the scene. I walked away.
Later I went to the runny-nosed babe's mother to buy a dirty bead collar in a ridiculous attempt to convey - what - sympathy? empathy?
I felt that I was the only member of the party who had doubts about the merits of opening up yet another wilderness to tourism. 'They need the money,' I was assured by a compatriot. I spoke to the guide. He told me that the money is not really needed. Either it is collected by the chief of the tribe or it is used to buy beads to make more souvenirs for the tourists.
I avoided taking any more photos as I felt we were robbing a people of their dignity. The Samburu's way of life - which was not based on money - was being destroyed by the cash we paid. But I could not avoid hearing one of my fellow tourists say: 'This place is a zoo! I got some real National Geographic titties shots in there!'
This article is from
the April 1986 issue
of New Internationalist.
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