When Corporate profits risk Global Health

Richard Holbrooke gets it all wrong.

First, he claims that Indonesia wants to keep virus sequences secret, to start a Global Pandemic:

When “Sovereignty” Risks Global Health
by Richard C. Holbrooke & Laurie Garrett

NEW YORK – Here’s a concept you’ve probably never heard of: “viral sovereignty.” This dangerous idea comes to us courtesy of Indonesia’s minister of health, Siti Fadilah Supari, who asserts that deadly viruses are the sovereign property of individual nations – even though they cross borders and could pose a pandemic threat to all the world’s peoples. Political leaders around the world should take note – and take very strong action.

But the problem is–and Richard knows better–is that Indonesia would be all to happy to give access to the virii as long as they would be able to manufacture the resulting vaccines under an open license. (See coverage here and here.) So I could just as well write a piece titled: Profits of Western Pharmaceutical Companies threaten Global Pandemic, because that is what the CDC’s well announced plan is: to turn over all the sequences to a Pharmaceutical Company, and let them reap windfall profits on a blockbuster drug. Of course, to bad for those who can’t afford the vaccines, they should just die. So sorry.

Clearly, the solution is this: government labs (or private labs under contract) develop the vaccine, and then license it to any pharmaceutical company qualified to manufacture it, as a generic. Open licensing. Equity. That is all Indonesia is asking for, Richard.

Of course that would have the benefit of making a quality vaccine widely available–but it would do the unforgivable–deny a pharmacuetical company somewhere a billion or two of profits.

Who–just who–are the terrorists?

When Corporate profits risk Global Health

Shot-gun patents

As a follow-up to the post of March 2007, The System IS the Sickness here’s an interesting report by the Sunshine Project which sums up some of the issues concerning patents for the H5N1 avian influenza virus, otherwise known as “Bird Flu.” It seems that some companies are patenting whole sequences of any Bird Flu virus sample that WHO or the CDC sends them, hoping by a kind of shot-gun strategy, to come out with a winning ticket in the patent lottery. They haven’t analyzed any of these sequences at all, they are just patenting them as the sequence them.  Indonesia, as I had noted last March, is unsure why it should contribute information that WHO hands over to the CDC who in turn hands that sample over to an American Pharma Company, who will extract royalties from whoever ends up producing the vaccine. There is no offer on the table to share royalties based on the information Indonesia provided with Indonesia, or to release that information into the public domain, so any company could use it. Indonesia could end up being unable to afford the treatments that their samples were instrumental in creating.

The report is a good summary and is especially interesting when it discusses how the science interacts with the legal/patent framework.

Continue reading “Shot-gun patents”

Shot-gun patents

A New Animal Pathogen?

A potential outbreak with certain parallels to prion diseases, but other differences as well. Similar in that that those affected worked in the department that rendered pork brains, and their initial symptoms seem to be neurological. However, having 12 cases in less than a year suggests something faster spreading, perhaps a virus, or also a neurotoxin is still something to look into. There’s not a lot of information in the initial reports. So go to work public health reporters!

Recall that the first cases of SARS have also been traced to animal renderers, although that was in China, so this item didn’t appear in newspapers until several months after the outbreak started. And there’s some health issues in China that are not being subjected to very much scrutiny, like this outbreak of strange neurological symptoms and this outbreak among swine. As the Chinese leadership apparently mis-learned the lesson from SARS, which for them unfortunately was: do a better job of covering up disease outbreaks.  Highly recommended here is Karl Taro Greenfeld’s book The China Syndrome.

If there is one point of the posts on this site regarding Public Health it is this: the quality of public health reporting will infinitely affect your lives, much more than 99.9% of the other stuff carried in most newspapers today.  And the scope of that high quality public health reporting, due to our highly globalised flows of people and food, has to be international, not just local. 

But the US still has a relatively free press, recent developments not withstanding, so we still get a disease monitoring system for free, and here it is at work:

Continue reading “A New Animal Pathogen?”

A New Animal Pathogen?

What you can do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Here’s some of links to articles about the growth of MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Quite a lot of interest in this given the recent paper by Dr. Monina Klevens et al at the CDC which concluded:

“Based on 8,987 observed cases of MRSA and 1,598 in-hospital deaths among patients with MRSA, we estimate that 94,360 invasive MRSA infections occurred in the United States in 2005; these infections were associated with death in 18,650 cases..”

And remember, this was in 2005–today the number is probably much higher.

Not any coverage of one of the most important causes of this phenomena, though. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have arisen so quickly largely because of the widespread use of antibiotics for veterinary uses, chiefly in the giant food factory farms. In these farms, animals are crowded together in disease-promoting conditions, so the only way to keep the animals from getting sick is to constantly feed them antibiotics. The bacteria that these animals are exposed to then become resistant to antibiotics, and through the process of horizontal genetic transfer, the germs that infect humans get the genes that they need to protect them against antibiotics. (See my previous post on this issue)

So, the AMA warned before against the use of the newer generation of antibiotics in animals, and is, along with 12 other health organizations, warning about this again, now that the pharmaceutical industry has asked the government for permission to use the very newest class of antibiotics on animals. These are our last-ditch antibiotics, and if bacteria become resistant to these, the number of fatal infections will increase, warns the AMA.

So the government is going to look out for the interests of its citizens and NOT approve the request by the pharma industry to make these last ditch antibiotics available to the cattle industry, right? Think again:

Continue reading “What you can do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria”

What you can do about antibiotic-resistant bacteria

NOT for Hypochondriacs

An interesting site, Who is sick, collects data from folks who volunteer the symptoms of their sickness. It then displays this information, in a clear, graphic way, which conveys a few of the key symptoms by use of a color-coded pie chart. Seems like a site that has the potential, if it catches on, of being on the very leading edge of public health threat detection. It is exactly the kind of a decentralized, open source effort that John Robb over at Global Guerillas has been talking about as a paradigm for fighting the global guerilla. Of course, Who is Sick is fighting illness, but it could also be fighting a bio-terror attack, too.

Hat Tip: Bugs N Gas Gal


In complete contrast to some of the syndromic surveillance monitoring programs, the database itself is fairly open to inspection. This will lead, I should speculate, that Bush will want to close it down in the event that it actually starts to detect something. After all, we have giving him the power to do just that, as I have noted before. And his free speech credentials don’t seem very strong, especially when dealing with public health issues.

In any case, one thing that interests me is to what extent will this site contribute to the so-called “Bill Clinton effect:”

Continue reading “NOT for Hypochondriacs”

NOT for Hypochondriacs

Bad News

Well, it seems that the number of bees dying is increasing, and has spread to Canada and to Europe. It’s hardly possible that a pesticide is responsible, given the differing usage patterns among EU and North America. The event has already become critical, as just a little less than about 1/3 of the crops grown in North America depend on Bees for pollination. The practice of transporting Bees around in closed semi-trailers has undoubtedly greatly increased the speed with which the outbreak has spread, but no one is talking about putting any limits on moving bees around, as no one has a plan “B” for pollinating their crops without bees, and without moving the existing hives around, there won’t be enough to pollinate all crops. Such is the downside of a super-efficient economy, in which travel and movement of items is cheap.

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Bad News

Brazil Moves Forward

Well, as expected, another country has joined Thailand in threatening to “break the patent” for Merck’s Efavirenz. Bloomberg has some reporting of the dispute, and it’s filled with sideways adjectives describing the dispute in a quite stilted way. But this is to be expected, after all someone is trying to buck the patent system which is part of TRIPS. Regarding Thailand’s initial efforts to negotiate a better price for Efavirenz, I had observed earlier that Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla is amazingly stupid or, in the unthinkable alternative, the Financial Times is biased and it is clear that the unthinkable alternative is the one that is aligned with reality. So here we go again.

But the real bias in this reporting comes mainly from what is omitted, rather than what is said. For example, from this reporting it seems that Brazil just pulled the price of 65 cents a pill out of thin air when they were just asking for the exactly the same price Thailand is getting. You can think what you want about what Brazil is doing, but it is crystal clear that Bloomberg is withholding relevant information. There’s also some basic background missing, which I’ll supply from another source below the fold.
Continue reading “Brazil Moves Forward”

Brazil Moves Forward