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From: FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
Subject:      [FAIR-L] Action Alert: ABC AGREES WITH DRUG INDUSTRY:
AFFORDABLE             MEDICINE  FOR AFRICANS IS DANGEROUS
                                 FAIR-L
                    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and news reports

Action Alert:
ABC AGREES WITH DRUG INDUSTRY:
AFFORDABLE MEDICINE FOR AFRICANS IS DANGEROUS

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 provide."

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 wants to.

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
AIDS-related
programs."

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

Glaxo Wellcome.

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
quickly."


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.

Peter Jennings
ABC News
 47 W. 66 St., New York, NY 10023
 Phone: 212-456-7777
 Fax: 212-456-4297
 mailto:[log in to unmask]

You can read a version of ABC's report at
http://abcnews.go.com/onair/CloserLook/wnt990708_aidsdrugs.html .