This is a followup to the node I created on the 'access to medicines' debate. In the light of that its time to put the activities of Pfizer under the spotlight.
Summary of the debate:
I will briefly summarise the arguments of that node before I go on to tackling the role of Pfizer. It is a fact that 24,000 people daily die of treatable diseases and this is primarily because the medicines in question are unaffordable (Boston Globe, 2003). The Doha Declaration of the WTO in November 2001 stated that developing countries could take advantage of the public health protections that were included in the TRIPS Agreement. These include provisions for compulsory licencing and parallel importing. But the pharmaceutical industry has argued that this would affect their profits and thus in the long term affect R&D. Statistics however contradict this which shows that Africa would constitute only 1.3% of their profits and that most drugs are in fact a product of research funded by the American taxpayer. But in December 2002, the United States Trade Representative or the USTR was the only one of 144 countries to refuse to abide by the Doha Declaration, which he had signed, claiming that it was improperly written.
Pfizer and the USTR:
These events focussed attention on the role of Pfizer and the influence it had on the USTR. Pfizer CEO, Hank McKinnell was involved in directions with the WTO Director. They reached an agreement that stated that developing countries would be unable to import generic medicines except after an epidemic had already gained full “emergency” status, in violation of the Doha Declaration. Countries would have to wait for high death tolls before being allowed to import generic drugs. The talks again broke down as only the USTR supported such measures (Financial Times, February 17, 2003).
Some facts about Pfizer:
Let us now take a closer look at Pfizer. Pfizer is the world's largest largest drug company, with $53 billion in sales this year. Last year it spent 35% of its revenue on marketing and advertising, and only 15% on R&D (Securities & Exchange Commission, 2002). Three key drugs sold by Pfizer—Diflucan (antifungal used for AIDS patients), Viracept (an antiretroviral marketed with Roche), and Zithromax (an antibiotic)—are overpriced in poor countries. Even as other companies make price-cuts, Pfizer maintains high prices. Diflucan in Kenya has been priced at $10.50/unit, over 90% above production cost (Doctors Without Borders, July 2002). Pfizer consistently buys other smaller companies or their products and combines others’ R&D with Pfizer’s marketing muscle to sell products. Moreover Pfizer's donations have been few and far between and have come only after a sustained campaign. Pfizer recently donated AIDS drugs to South Africa, but the stipulations associated with it made it virtually unattainable for the majority of the population.
History of Pfizer's actions:
Finally let us take a quick glimpse at Pfizer's actions. In 1984, Pfizer pushed US legislation into passing Section 301 which allows the USTR to unilaterally threaten countries whose patent laws are in conflict with that of the US. Then, in 1987 when Pfizer complains that Brazil is using generic medicines, the US administration imposes 100% tariffs on the $39 billion worth of Brazilian imports into the United States. (It it interesting to note that the pharamaceutical companies have been appalled by the success of Brazil's campaign to provide generic medicines to its AIDS patients, a policy that has seen a 80% drop in hospitalization rates according to MSF). In 1996, under pressure from Pfizer, the US threatened to impose Section 301 on Brazil and had to withdraw it under immense public criticism. In 1999, Pfizer spent $3.8 million on lobbying in the Congress according to Congressional Budget Office, 2000. In 2000, Pfizer becomes second-largest campaign contributor to the US Presidential election, spending $2.3 million, 86% of which goes to the Republican Party (Center for Responsible Politics, 2000). In 2001, Pfizer CEO McKinnell takes chairmanship of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s US lobby group. And, finally in 2002, Pfizer demands that the USTR force the breakdown of the Doha Declaration (Forbes, 2003). The USTR becomes the only trade minister among 145 countries to refuse to agree with generics for the poorest countries. Pfizer negotiates directly with WTO to put pressure on developing countries. The matter is yet to be resolved.(Financial Times, 2003).
The sources for this are the same as those for the access to medicines debate node. Oxfam has for long been campaigning against Pfizer and the details of that are available on their website at www.oxfam.org.uk. Most of the information for this node has been taken from material on www.geocities.com/medicinepolicy which is an excellent source of information on various public health debates.