The More Things Change….(Archive)
We hear every day that everything has changed since September 11; certainly the way in which we view the world has changed. But its challenges remain as stubborn as ever.
More than 36 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. Ninety percent are in developing nations and 75% are in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The World Health Organization estimates that only one in a thousand of the approximately 25 million infected Africans are receiving treatment.
AIDS activists assert that the current pharmaceutical pricing structure and a lack of financing from western governments are the main obstacles to treating AIDS sufferers. The developed world’s response – voluntary discounts and donations — should be part of a comprehensive solution, but are inadequate in relation to the massive scale of the problem. Moreover, they are usually conditional and reversible. A long-term, sustainable approach would have to include a systematic, transparent system of tiered pricing backed by substantial funding from the international community. The leading providers of AIDS drugs — Pfizer, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Abbott Laboratories, and Eli Lilly — could all be powerful agents for change.
But they haven’t, and they’re catching hell for it. According to Oxfam UK, “Inequalities in the provision of health care pose a growing reputation risk to pharmaceutical companies…Each year 11 million people die from infectious diseases — the vast majority of them are poor.” The organization has developed seven benchmarks for measuring the responsiveness of pharmaceutical companies to the AIDS crisis in Africa:
A written, publicly available policy stating the company’s plan to increase access to drugs in developing countries.Clear, measurable targets for making available life-saving drugs, indicating whether the business objectives of meeting those targets are to sell the drugs for profit or at cost.Willingness to discuss differentiated patent enforcement in developing nations according to ability to pay and public health needs.A member of the board of directors responsible for developing and implementing AIDS drug policies.Progress reports on AIDS drug policy implementation, including clear, disaggregated information on the amount of R&D expenditure dedicated AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.If the company is involved in any legal or trade dispute involving patents in developing nations, the company has publicly provided an assessment of any negative reputational risk incurred.Indication that the company upholds and monitors internationally recognized ethical standards on clinical trials in developing nations.Of the nine pharmaceutical companies Trillium Asset Management has written (pre-Sept. 11th) requesting information on their policies and programs regarding the affordability and accessibility of HIV/AIDS drugs in developing countries, the only responses came from Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline. Both companies responded that, while they recognize the overwhelming need to cut AIDS drug prices and have done so in certain poverty-stricken nations, patents will remain an equally crucial part of their response.
Working in cooperation with members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Trillium Asset Management is evaluating the responses of pharmaceutical companies in which our clients are invested, and may join in the filing shareholder proposals.
As so often happens, the world’s governments are lagging behind its cultural and civic leaders. On September 21st Artists Against AIDS Worldwide released a benefit version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” to inspire the world to ask our leaders just exactly what’s going on concerning policies on AIDS, world debt and poverty. Recently, Trillium Asset Management joined over 90 civic groups in signing a letter to President Bush requesting $1 billion in emergency funding for AIDS drugs for Africa by December 1st, World AIDS Day. Our post-September 11th redefinition of security must include our ability and political will to protect our most vulnerable communities.
Visit Artists Against AIDS Worldwide’s web site to learn more on how activists and artists are pressing President Bush, other G7 leaders, and members of the U.S. Congress to promote corporate responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry.