FILE PHOTO: Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged on a table in a photo illustration shot September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/Illustration/File Photo

Ultimately, a separation comes, inevitably, in death and different ways – but should this include a life lost because of inability to afford medical care, while pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars in profits?

The current World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, should be addressing such life-saving questions as at what point do legitimate corporate profits devilishly morph into quasi-criminal exploitation?

While family finances are ruined paying for medical care, 14 pharmaceutical companies in the US posted profits of over $1 billion for the third quarter of 2018. The pharmaceutical industry spends $30 billion a year on advertising.

A $3 billion lawsuit is a minor expense among the annual earnings of pharma multinationals mercilessly selling essential drugs at exorbitant costs. With colluding corporatized hospitals, a major illness, surgery, or accident can mean a six-figure sum in medical bills.

This is blood money. A greedy health-care industry that in effect callously indulges in legalized blackmail of the worst kind: holding to ransom a human life and the financial health of a traumatized family.

Yet the so-called mainstream media ignore outrageous Big Pharma profits. Not surprising, with most major media houses in the past two years glaringly exposed as propaganda machines of corporate lobbyists.

This is blood money: holding to ransom a human life and the financial health of a traumatized family

In these dark days of self-destructed media credibility, any fight against Big Pharma gets minimal or no mainstream coverage. So you probably never heard of the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), a worldwide students’ group fighting Big Pharma profits in 20 countries.

Last September, 3,000 students as part of the UAEM urged the University of California at Los Angeles to call off its patent war waged in the New Delhi High Court over Enzalutamide. Used for treatment of prostate cancer, Enzalutamide was developed at UCLA with public-funded research, from the US National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.

UCLA then pocketed $500 million from licensing Enzalutamide to the San Francisco-based drug company Medivation Inc. Medivation became a Pfizer subsidiary, and Pfizer peddles Enzalutamide at an annual treatment cost of $150,000.

In 2016, India’s Patent Office rejected UCLA’s patent application for Enzalutamide as an original invention. The university is fighting the patent rejection – and for the lost (more) billions of dollars in profit for Pfizer.

Medivation’s partner Astellas, a Japanese pharmaceutical, sells Enzalutamide in India as a non-patented drug, Xtandi. Astellas reported $12.2 billion in sales for the year ending March 31, 2018, with a whopping $1.55 billion profit.

Developing countries need relatively lower-cost drugs. Yet a monthly dosage (112 capsules) of Xtandi still costs 335,000 rupees (nearly $4,700) a month – equivalent to the monthly salary of the president of India.

Unlike US President Donald Trump trying to bring down the costs of essential drugs, few government leaders consistently battle Big Pharma. “Pharma has a lot of lobbies, lobbyists and a lot of power,” Trump said a year ago in his first press conference as president-elect. “There is very little bidding on drugs.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent $25.4 million on lobbying in 2017, with 1,480 lobbyists. Pharma clout leads lobbying among industries, spending nearly $4 billion in the past two decades.

But we ignore Big Pharma blood money at our own peril: Medical blackmailers can next strike in our lives.

Few people bicker about hospital costs when a family member’s life is at stake. Corporatized hospitals brutally exploit this family emotion, often threatening to withhold treatment for the patient.

The Mumbai-based Cancer Patients Aid Association estimates that a cancer patient needs 400,000 rupees for treatment on average. Middle-income families sell property, even end their children’s education, to pay such cancer costs.

Some of these once prosperous families end up living in the streets outside hospitals.

The misery of hyper-inflated essential health care can end when more individuals support groups like UAEM fighting for affordable medical treatment.

Non-corrupt sections of the judiciary have to act against the blood-money profiteering of pharmaceutical cartels.

Like all severe addicts with numbed, desensitized minds, money-addicted corporate chieftains fail to act with sensitivity or compassion.

If Mr Death visits them tomorrow, how many dollars can these billionaires take with them?

Fairer drug costs will help compassionate projects serving cancer patients for free or as a non-profit, such as the Tata Memorial Hospitals in Mumbai and Kolkata.

With India’s $2.7 trillion gross domestic product, expected to overtake Britain this year as the world’s fifth-largest economy, the country can afford to focus more on making health care more affordable.

The safest insurance is the law of nature, which ensures that serving others is also helping oneself.

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Raja Murthy

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden.com and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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