”Quite frankly, at the end, the companies are running the U.S. government. They are pulling the strings.” – Peter Rost, MD, former Vice-President of Pfizer, Inc.
It is fortuitous that the documentary Fire in the Blood came along at around the same time as the Neill Blomkamp movie Elysium (click to see my review), because both are essentially about the same thing: investigating and exposing one of the single worst crimes in human history, namely the catastrophic failure of big pharmaceutical companies to offer life-saving drugs to people for a fair price. In the industrialised world many people can afford the exorbitant prices the companies ask for their drugs, but in the Third World – places like Africa and India – they cannot. Despite the fact that the drugs are cheap to produce (less than 5 cents a pill), they are often being sold for prices of up to $15,000 for a year’s supply. Pharmaceutical companies reap profits that can only be likened to an extortion racket but often do not contribute to funding the research that leads to the development of these drugs, meaning that tax payers are paying several times for the same drugs. Are you outraged yet?
Fire in the Blood admirably lays out the history of access to HIV medication in Africa, where millions (millions!) of people die every year for lack of the drugs that could make all the difference. Across the past several decades, a tug of war has been going on between the pharmaceutical companies and the local communities and their dedicated spokespeople. Most of the media haven’t cared about the situation, and people in Africa have had to tirelessly take to the streets to demonstrate against the inhuman greed of the corporations. Little of this has been reported in Western media. Champions of the disenfranchised have fought a gloriously brave battle to win the legal right to produce cheaper copies of the essential medicine, and one company in particular, Cipla in India, have joined the fight, producing the drugs at nearly a loss in order to get them out to the needy. The big Western companies initially claimed that if countries like India were allowed to produce drugs, these drugs would be of inferior quality, etc., but the fact is that those same companies are having their brand drugs produced in Indian factories, so this is nothing but propagandistic lies.
The documentary starts by telling the horror story of how big pharma kept the drugs from poor people, who died in droves, but as we approach and pass the turn of the millennium good news also appear. Thanks to idealistic and hard-working good-hearted people such as for instance HIV researcher and author Peter Mugyenyi, cheap drugs eventually did become available, resulting in a major victory for the diseased masses of Africa. Sadly, this turns around once again, as the World Trade Organization soon after carried through some changes in policy which favoured the big companies and have yet again made it increasingly difficult for anyone else to use the relevant patents to produce affordable drugs. In other words, the capitalists are back to their old tricks of patents killing patients.
WHO estimates that at least 18 million people die each year of treatable and preventable diseases, purely because those people do not have access to medicine. This is profit-motivated genocide on a scale that completely dwarfs other holocausts known from wars and humanitarian disasters. We may think we live in a civilised era, but you can be sure that future history will not judge this era kindly. We, who are alive now, are the ones who are continuously letting uncounted millions of people die that we could easily have saved. It is the most disgusting kind of murderous terrorism ever perpetrated, and all to let wealthy people get even more wealthy, which is Western business as usual. There is a word for this, and the word is “evil”. And ordinary Western citizens like us are the ones unthinkingly drinking the kool-aid. When will it be time to spit it out for a change?
I urge everyone to watch this documentary. The value of the truths it reveals are incalculable and will open many people’s eyes to the ugly reality of the corporate world we live in – and the extreme ignorance about the facts that our corporate and political elite continues to keep us in.
Fire in the Blood is available on DVD in the UK on March 24.
Director/producer/writer: Dylan Mohan Gray
Cast: William Hurt (narrator), Bill Clinton, Peter Rost, Yusuf Hamied, Zackie Achmat, James P. Love, Peter Mugyenyi, Desmond Tutu and others.
Runtime: 84 min.