Monday, April 4, 2016

Global Action Against Pharma Greed: ACT UP Turns 29 with a raucous zap and prank. Pharma Prices Are Killing Us! Let’s do something about it! @pfizer #PharmaGreedKills @VOCALNewYork @housingworks

Sitting with the late Keith Cylar some fifteen years ago, he told me about the ways his Housing Works colleague, Charles King, used to describe ACT UP as church; this was and still a space for fighting back, testifying, building community, comrades and fellowship.  I thought he was right then.  And I still feel that way today.

ACT UP at Pfizer World Headquarters Protesting Drug Prices

This author snapping selfies at ACT UP 29, his two kids above to the left.
Middle photo by ACTUP

Arriving at the anniversary action on Friday, I saw people who I’ve been seeing at ACT UP zaps for two decades now.  Some were testifying; others were performing and supporting this ever expanding community of resistance.   With sartorial splendor, they brought a giant April Fools jester to ridicule Pfizer for its systematic price gauging and greed, after their successful Yes Men prank press release declaring Pfizer had dropped drug costs the day before.  (see below). 

In an article entitled, "Pfizer just got pranked big time before April Fools Day even started," Fortune Magazine reports:

"A press release announcing that Pfizer PFE 1.46% would no longer increase the prices of its drugs began circulating Thursday afternoon—a seemingly watershed decision in the pharmaceutical industry, which for months has faced intense scrutiny of its drug price hikes and accusations of price-gouging.
Alas, the announcement, as well as a website it linked to, turned out to be fake. Pfizer denied association with the “anonymously issued” press release and website in its own statement a few hours later, saying “it was erroneously attributed to Pfizer and should be disregarded.” Both the website and the false release have apparently since been removed, and Pfizer said it was investigating the incident and could pursue legal action."

ACT UP was at the Pfizer Headquarters to remind Pfizer that their model is not sustainable. This cannot endure. Without price controls, big pharma puts our already precarious health care system and peoples' lives in jeopardy.   Medicaid and Medicare cannot continue to pay inflated drug prices. So the denials of claims escalate and patients are turned away from care.

As Michael Kerr puts it, no one should have to live, 
1) Wondering if safe effective meds would be come available to treat my deadly condition.
2) And now that safe and effective treatment for HIV is available- LIVING IN CONSTANT FEAR that the medications may become unaffordable.
3) Pharma Greed affects everyone -we all know someone who struggles to pay for medication costs or simply goes without treatment.

Annette Gaudino was testifying about Pfizer.

Andrew Velez and Mark Milano said hi to my kids. Mark recalled meeting my first daughter at ACT UP years ago.  Now she is 13.  They both greeted the kids with a smile.

Andew, Mark, and Jim Eigo. 

This diverse community is still united in anger and committed to ending the systems of profit driven medicine, racism, classism, homophobia and drug profiteering fueling the epidemic.

My friend Elizabeth, of VOCAL, spoke about pharma greed.

“This is not a joke to me.  I have hepatitis C and they think that my illness is not critical enough,” she explained. “This is not an April fools to me.  I wanna live till tomorrow and the next day. And I’ll be damned if I let anybody make a joke of this. Hepatitis C is very much among low income communities.  Its more than car accidents.  I don’t see any reason to be joking about this.  I wanna live. I don’t give a damn how long it takes.  I’m gonna stand right here and make sure Pfizer and every other corporation knows.”  

“We got your back!” we screamed.

“Lower prices now!  Lower prices now!”

When she finished speaking, I greeted Elizabeth.  And as she always does, she gave me a hug.  I introduced her to my kids.  And, she gave them hugs, thanking them for their support and asking them to come again.  This is signature ACT UP and VOCAL. Lots of love and lots of anger, desire, hope, grief and burning ambition.   It makes a beautiful, smart, sexy, combustible, pulsing movement, three decades and still churning forward, impacting corporate pricing, as well as media, and city and state policy.

My daughter wrote a paper about the high hepatitis C drug pricing, speaking with Elizabeth about this problem.

For Elizabeth and members of ACT UP and VOCAL, this is about their lives, our lives, everyone’s lives, those no longer here and those at risk ACT UP has always made this point.  Its about everyone.  Its not over till its over for everyone.

“Every nursing home in the East Village and the Lower East Side has been bought by real estate developers and turned into housing for rich newcomers to these neighborhoods,” noted John Penly.

“It was originally an AIDS hospice before it was reworked as nursing home.  It’s a disgrace that it has been lost when more housing and care for people with HIV is still necessary and needed” noted Peewee Nyob.

As long as companies put profits before people there will be acting up to do.  

“People not profits, lower prices now!”

Walking away from the demo, a few of us talked about the combination of righteous anger and love, eros and activism expanding across decades, memories, fallen friends, and new comrades.  And ACT UP  is still raging against the greed still fueling this epidemic on global days of action such as Friday.

Happy birthday ACT UP!

VOCAL Taking over the state capital for funds to end the epidemic.

We are not fooled: Global health activists confront pharmaceutical industry over excessive medicine prices

On 1st April 2016, activists across the world are protesting against the greed that blocks access to essential medicines.

April Fools’ Day is an appropriate day to highlight both the extortionate price of medicines and the lack of transparency around research and development (R&D) costs.

The protest is coordinated by a coalition of over 25 health advocacy groups from 6 continents. Today’s demonstrations are being held outside offices of Pfizer, Gilead, Roche, the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

We demand an end to:
·         unfair medicine pricing
·         corporate tax inversion
·         deception about research and development costs.
Instead, we want all countries to use public health safeguards to ensure better access to medicines and a global R&D agreement that would ensure better innovation for medicines.

“The public won’t be taken for fools by Big Pharma anymore! Martin Shkreli is not an outlier for gouging medicine prices! Together we’re standing up against the abusive practices of the global pharmaceutical industry, which continues to leave millions of people without access to the life-saving medicines they need”, said Luis Santiago from ACT UP.

Globally, more than two billion people do not have regular access to the critical medicines they need. This is one in three of the world's population. More than half of these people live in Asia and Africa. Every year, 10 million people die from diseases because access to effective treatments is blocked by drug pricing.

One reason for this is the high cost of medicines under patent protection. Another is a refusal to see diseases like HIV in the context of poverty, malnutrition, and other material factors. There is no such thing as an epidemic that occurs independently of social problems around it.

The pharmaceutical industry justifies high prices by claiming R&D costs of over USD $2.9 billion per drug. But the independent campaign organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases (DNDi), recently reported that new medicines can be developed for less than USD 200 million, including the cost of failed drugs. Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, broke ranks with other companies to state industry’s claims around R&D costs are “one of the great myths of the industry.”

In Boston, activists are protesting the role of Tufts University for non-transparent industry-backed studies by Professor Joseph DiMasi that mislead the public around these costs.

Drug companies spend more on marketing than on R&D – more than double in most cases. Early stages of medicine research are often funded by governments, charities, universities, and independent scientists – yet Big Pharma control the final price tag and gets the profits. Final pricing is unrelated to manufacturing cost. For example, it costs only USD 60 to 270 to produce a 12-week course for new hepatitis C medicines, yet these are priced at USD 84,000 in the US.
“Instead of setting the price reasonably around the costs of development and production, prices are often set based on how much profit can be squeezed out of people who are sick and often desperate,” said Anele Yawa from the Treatment Action Campaign.

Merith Basey, Executive Director of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines emphasizes, “The public shouldn’t be tricked into paying multiple times for the life-saving medical research they helped to fund, only to find the end product is priced out of reach by Big Pharma. The system doesn’t have to work this way, we have the power to reclaim research for the public good.”

Furthermore, governments should more easily produce and distribute off-brand drugs without breaking intellectual property laws, since the latter mean that countries often have to use cost-cutting measures that restrict eligibility for drugs that can prevent and effectively treat diseases. These include essential, life-saving medicines for cancer, HIV, Tuberculosis, and hepatitis C, among others.

We urge governments to prioritize people’s health over pharmaceutical company profits. Governments, through the work of the United Nations High Level Panel (HLP) on Access to Medicines, have an historic opportunity to change the ways in which we pay for R&D and new medicines. There are viable alternatives to the current patent-based system before the HLP. These alternative models would both increase investment in R&D and lead to greater access to care.  

General demands

DON’T BE FOOLED: There is no reasonable justification for excessive medicine pricing. We are united around the world to demand quality and affordable medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics. We urge leaders to put patients’ lives before Pharma greed and to confront corporate corruption and deceit!

We demand:
·         Access to critical, life-saving medicines irrespective of an individual's ability to pay.
·         Unobstructed use of legal intellectual property flexibilities to ensure simpler production and distribution of essential medicines.
·         Pharmaceutical companies to respect the rights of countries to fully use the health protective measures of the WTO TRIPS Agreement and to drop all the judicial cases challenging the implementation of such measures, such as in Argentina and Brazil.
·         Our governments to support and invest in alternative financing structures for medical R&D, such as prize funding, grants and subsidies.
·         Increased R&D for new medicines that treat neglected or infectious diseases, such as Chagas, Ebola, TB, and Zika.
·         Our governments to mandate transparency of R&D costs and the costs of drug production.
·         Our governments to insist on, and enforce, non-exclusive (open access) licenses on all publicly financed medicines, thereby ensuring medicines are for the public good.
·         A binding global research and development agreement that generates R&D based on health needs rather than market forces. Drug development should unlink R&D funding from the final drug price.
·         Our governments to fully engage with and support the work of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines and that the panel places the right to life and the right to health before the private interests of pharmaceutical companies.

Sign Petitions:

April Fools Prank Has Pfizer Announcing Price Reductions
ACT UP and Other Health Activists Rally Against High Drug Prices

Sunday, April 3, 2016, 9:00 AM ET

NY – Last Thursday, April Fools Day eve, the Washington Post briefly reported that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Inc. had “vowed today to stop the time-tested habit of jacking up the list prices of its drugs each year.”

As it turned out, an ad hoc group of activists calling themselves “Nobody’s Fool,” in collaboration with the cyberspace activist group The Yes Men, created the fake press releases and websites. The content of these websites is attached.

The fake website for PhRMA Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America “announced” a Sustainable Pricing Plan for the 21st Century, an ostensible initiative establishing a new pricing model that would improve access to medications by lowering prices.

On the fake Pfizer website, the company “announced” the immediate end to price increases. Several online media outlets, including the Washington Post, fell for the prank and reported the announcements as real before the websites were shut down. Pfizer has released a statement to disregard the new drug pricing policy and its commitment to “engaging in an honest discussion” with patients about affordable medicines. The community of health activists is open to pursuing this opportunity with Pfizer to discuss improvements in the way medicines are priced so everyone can access the treatment they need.

The next day, April 1, dozens of activists from ACT UP New York and other organizations converged at the New York City headquarters of Pfizer, to demand drug pricing reforms. Activists criticized Pfizer because it:
•    consistently implements price increases that far outstrip the rate of inflation;
•    is engaging in a merger with Irish drug company Allergan to avoid paying billions of dollars in U.S. taxes; and
•    refuses to lower the price of their pneumonia vaccine to $5 per child, as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has requested, to make the vaccine available in poor countries.

The Pharma Greed Kills demonstration at Pfizer’s headquarters was organized in coordination with over 30 organizations in 13 cities in several countries, including

ACT UP at Pfizer World Headquarters Protesting Drug Prices
On April 1, 2016, we stand in solidarity with a coalition of over 25 health advocacy groups from 6 continents.
In New York, we target Pfizer because it is representative of the deceptive pharmaceutical industry. We are protesting against their
lies and continuous acts of financial greed in their attempts to profit from medicines at the expense patients’ lives and expanding affordable access.
§  Pfizer gouges prices.In January 2016, Pfizer hiked the price of over 100 medicines, by up to 20%, including treatments for breast cancer, mental health, HIV, epilepsy, prostate cancer, pneumonia, skin and gut infections, acute myeloid leukemia, erectile dysfunction, menopause symptoms, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and heart disease. These price increases deviate from costs of inflation and regularly occur over the years.
§  Pfizer lies. They claim that R&D for a medication costs over USD 1 billion dollars. Their propaganda deceives the public to justify that they deserve billions of dollars in profit in order to recoup costs. Pfizer uses millions in public fundsto develop drugs and needs to open its books to reveal the true R&D costs.
§  Pfizer steals. Pfizer merged with Irish company Allergan in 2015 to permanently avoid paying up to $35 billion in US taxes. This is one of the largest tax dodges ever. Pfizer extorts money from patients who cannot afford its drugs while evading taxes.

§  Pfizer kills children.Pfizer has refused to negotiate with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to lower the price of the pneumonia vaccine to $5 per child. The vaccine can save millions of children’s lives, but is too expensive for many developing countries. In 2014 alone, Pfizer made $4.4 billion from vaccine sales. We support MSF and demand Pfizer to disclose the prices they charge all countries for this vaccine.

To the right, Reginald Thomas Brown, who had a busy week, taking part in the VOCAL CD to End the Epidemic in Albany earlier in the week and the ACT UP 29 demo Friday.  See his photos below.

Bottom photos by Reginald Thomas Brown

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