Documentary film explores what’s at stake in the war on drugs – generic drugs | 

Fire in the Blood will be screened Saturday, 7 pm, at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98122.

A prize-winning documentary film, Fire in the Blood, will be screened in Seattle this weekend to make the case that there is another war on drugs taking place across the planet – a still-raging war on generic drugs that began more than a decade ago over the price of AIDS medications.

Dylan-Mohan-Gray “We have a deeply flawed system of drug development and commercialization that affects everyone, including the United States,” the director of the film, Dylan Mohan Gray, told Humanosphere by Skype from his home in Mumbai, India. “This film, and this issue, is not just about AIDS. It’s about what’s undermining people’s access to medicines.”

Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and even a drug industry insider-whistleblower work to transform this documentary exploration of the complex politics of the pharmaceutical industry into something more like a murder mystery thriller.

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How much do your food snacks and beverages hurt the poor? | 

Have you ever wondered to what extent that can of Pepsi or Coke – or the quasi-potato-chip Pringles or that quasi-chocolate Snickers bar – hurts the poor?

No? Well, Oxfam and its Behind the Brands campaign staff would like you to wonder about that.

And they would like you to then go check out the anti-poverty advocacy organization’s colorful online interactive chart that will tell you in quantifiable terms just how well, or badly, the top 10 food companies do when it comes to helping the poor or displacing poor farmers from their land – or otherwise undermining their rights and well-being.

The latest salvo on Oxfam’s ongoing campaign aimed at encouraging the food industry to ensure workers and poor farmers are not exploited by their practices is focused on sugar and ‘land grabs.’ Here’s the official report and, in case you are like most of us and prefer YouTube to a lengthy text report, here’s Oxfam’s video.

In the news:

The Independent Oxfam accuses Coke and Pepsi of taking land from the poor

Bloomberg Sugar trade spurs land grabs in poor countries, Oxfam says

Food Magazine Associated British Foods rejects Oxfam’s land grab accusations

IRIN Global sugar demand leaves Cambodian farmers landless

If you actually read Oxfam’s report, it’s clear that some of these mega food companies are, in fact, trying to improve when it comes to worker rights, environmental protection, water, women and other issues. Nestle scored highest in total for seven categories of rankings. Coke did better than Pepsi and Associated British Foods scored the worst, by Oxfam’s tally. Continue reading

UN health summit makes food, beverage and drug industries nervous | 

Flickr, Roadsidepictures

Members of the United Nations General Assembly met this week to come up with a plan to combat chronic disease in poor countries that appears to have some in the food, beverage and drug industries worried.

Ten years ago, a similar meeting here produced a massive global response to the AIDS pandemic, most notably with the creation of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, TB and Malaria (which yesterday, despite clearly saving many millions of lives, got slammed for not working as well as advertised).

The expectation at the UN meeting is that delegates will decide that somebody should do something … and would like to be more specific, but then say they are late for another meeting, grab their hats and coats and make for the door.

Part of the problem is that many chronic diseases are “lifestyle” diseases — lifestyles that a lot of corporations want us to buy into.

The need for action is clear: Chronic or non-communicable diseases (aka NCDs) are the world’s big killers, representing about 60 percent of all causes of death. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease (mostly from tobacco), diabetes and the like kill many more people — most of them in the developing world — than do infectious diseases like AIDS, TB or malaria.

But governments, donors, the drug industry and health agencies don’t set their global health priorities simply on the basis of the burden of disease, as reasonable as that might sound. Some diseases are too complex, their treatment too expensive, to feasibly act against in poor countries.

Many of the NCDs are, however, easily and cheaply treated or prevented. High blood pressure can be treated with drugs costing pennies per day. Tackling some of the biggest killers, the World Health Organization says, can be done at a cost of about $1.20 per day.

Simply educating people about a healthy diet and the risks of tobacco or excessive alcohol use could do a lot.

It all sounds do-able, this aim to shift the global health agenda to include these non-contagious killers. So why the pessimism about getting a meaningful game plan out of this UN meeting?

Part of the problem is the concerns of industry. These health goals sometimes run up against powerful commercial interests in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries.


UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon

“There is a well-documented and shameful history of certain players in industry who ignored the science, sometimes even their own research, and put public health at risk to protect their own profits,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday in a speech on the NCDs.

Ban cited the tobacco and alcohol industries, but also makers of processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat — and the media companies that advertise unhealthy products. Continue reading

International trade map: Washington state still big on airplanes | 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has provided a interactive graphic that describes state-by-state the impact of international trade.

Washington state’s economy is heavily dependent on international trade, which some say has helped fuel some of our community’s more globalized view of the world. There’s a lot of talk these days about “global health” as a new emerging industry for this region, but as this chart indicates we’re still mostly about building airplanes.

Even Microsoft ranks pretty low, by comparison in terms of jobs and economic impact, after Boeing. Another point of note: Our local do-gooders talk a lot about wanting to assist sub-Saharan Africa. But one of the best ways to help Africa is going to be through economic development and commercial partnerships.

As this chart shows, we could do a lot more to expand our business ties with Africa.

Go to link above. This is just a screen grab:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

NPR: Seattle’s global health industry | 

Flickr, by striatic

My colleague Keith Seinfeld did a story for NPR today on our local boom in the global health industry that you can listen to at this link entitled “Seattle Benefits from Growth in Global Health.”


I always twinge a little when I hear people talk about global health as an industry. It is, in the sense that people work in it, get paid to do it and sometimes make things they hope to give or even sell to people in the developing world. But the word bugs me.

The story was introduced on NPR as a bright spot in the down economy: “In Seattle, at least one industry is booming.” The story includes a nice profile of Ken Stuart, founder of Seattle Biomed, and tells of his perseverance working for decades on a shoestring budget (even in a garage) on neglected tropical diseases — until the Gates Foundation stepped in to give him truckloads of money. The story also includes Gov. Christine Gregoire celebrating global health as a great new economic engine for our region.

The Governor isn’t alone in talking about global health mostly as a jobs program. There seems to be some kind of public forum or conference every few weeks based on this notion. Continue reading