Date: Sun, 18 Jul 1999 05:27:44 -0700 (PDT)
From: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting <fair@FAIR.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] ABC Agrees with Drug Industry: Affordable Medicine for Africans is Dangerous
ABC Agrees with Drug Industry: Affordable Medicine for Africans is Dangerous
From BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress
18 jul 1999
On July 8, ABC's World News Tonight aired two stories on the subject of
treating AIDS in African countries. ABC's conclusion: It's better for poor
Africans to die than to have access to cheap AIDS drugs.
The South African government is currently in a trade dispute with the
United States over this issue: South Africa, which is in the midst of an
AIDS epidemic, claims the right to license local pharmaceutical
manufacturers to produce cheap generic versions of AIDS drugs that would
otherwise be unaffordable for poor South Africans. The U.S. has taken the
side of American pharmaceutical companies, who are trying to put a stop to
the practice, known as "compulsory licensing."
The ABC stories were largely a brief for the drug industry. Jennings
started out by framing the debate: "Should the wealthier nations provide
AIDS drugs to those countries that cannot possibly afford them?" The
debate over compulsory licensing has nothing to do with wealthy nations
providing drugs; its about whether poor nations should be allowed to
produce their own generic drugs, as they are authorized to do under
international trade laws.
In the first segment, ABC News correspondent Jackie Judd claimed that
"many health professionals agree" with the drug industry's claim that
"cheaper drugs alone are never the answer," since AIDS "patients need to
be closely supervised, which the South African medical system cannot
But Judd presented no evidence that anyone has ever argued that "cheaper
drugs alone" are the "answer." This argument seems, instead, to be a straw
man manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry to justify its opposition
to the production of cheaper drugs. The only "health professional" Judd
used as an on-air source for this claim was Thomas Bombelles, a spokesman
for PhRMA, a consortium of large pharmaceutical companies.
Before her story aired, Judd had in fact contacted James Love, a health
economist who directs the Consumers' Project on Technology in Washington,
and one of the United States' leading experts on compulsory licensing for
AIDS drugs. Love told Judd that the industry's spin was wrong -- that
compulsory licensing would have a positive effect on public health in
Africa. But neither Love, nor his concerns, was mentioned in Judd's piece.
Judd also could have quoted Mark Biot, who oversees AIDS programs
worldwide for Doctors Without Borders. He told the Chicago Tribune
(4/28/99) that "clinics in most of the larger cities of the developing
world would be fully equipped to handle AIDS patients if they had access
to affordable drugs." The Tribune reported that physicians who treat AIDS
in developing countries call the drug industry's warnings about resistant
strains a "false issue."
The second segment was by ABC reporter Richard Gizbert in Zambia. After
introducing a Zambian AIDS patient named Veronica, Gizbert says "The
newest [AIDS] drugs are hard to get here as well. But even if they were
available, Zambian officials believe it is better to let someone like
Veronica die than to give the drugs without the proper supervision.
Because in Zambia, they agree with the drug companies, that anything less
than a full course of treatment with the right drugs could result in the
HIV virus mutating into something even more deadly."
Again, ABC is stressing that Zambian officials "agree with the drug
companies." In fact, the Zambian health official quoted in the broadcast
says only that "supportive services" are needed for AIDS patients--hardly
a startling position.
Gizbert concludes by reporting that "Zambia is letting its people die
today so that thousands, maybe even millions can be saved tomorrow." No
evidence is presented that the Zambian government is choosing to allow
people to die. As Gizbert himself reports, Zambia does not have the
resources to provide drugs to its AIDS-stricken population even if it
After the segments, anchor Peter Jennings added "one final note about the
drug companies -- Glaxo Wellcome that makes the AZT drug has cut drug
prices to some African countries. And Bristol-Myers Squibb, the makers of
three of the AIDS drugs, says it is spending $100 million in Africa on
Jennings did not mention that AZT normally sells in the U.S. for more than
ten times the cost of production--or that the drug was invented and
identified as a useful treatment for AIDS by the U.S. government, not by
Nor did ABC note that much of Bristol-Myers Squibb's money will fund train
doctors to do research for the company in Africa. As Dan Berman, also of
Doctors Without Borders, told Time magazine (7/12/99), "A lot of the
companies are using the cheaper labor costs and the lack of ethical codes
in developing countries as a way to get the trials done more cheaply and
ACTION ALERT: Please call on ABC News to return to the issue of medicine
for Africa's AIDS crisis--with a report that does not uncritically accept
the pharmaceutical industry's spin that Africa can't be trusted with
affordable AIDS drugs.
47 W. 66 St., New York, NY 10023
You can read a version of ABC's report at:
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