By Joe Montero
Behind Merck’s new Covid-19 pill there is a story about how this pharmaceutical multinational has used its position to make a huge monopoly profit from the Covid-19 outbreak. And this is just one of the giants exploiting sickness on an unprecedented scale.
This case began when the United States government gave the company $US29 million to develop molnupiravir, which is a pill supposed to reduce the impact on those who get sick with Covid -19. Merck has now been given a $US1.2 billion government contract. The sting is in that Merck is charging $US712 for a course of 6 pills that cost them only $US17.74 to make.
The almost 700 percent markup can’t be justified under any pretext.
Price gauging on this scale is possible because government gives the pharmaceutical multinational an exclusive market and when this is taken advantage of government follows by choosing to ignore the fact.
It has been the same story with vaccines, and not only in the Unites States. This has been happening In Australia too. Selected companies have been given the exclusive right to supply vaccines are charging around $700 a shot, paid by the Australian government out of our taxes.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has called for a stop to the profiteering. Spokesperson Leena Menghaney had this to say. Profiteering “…is something that pharmaceutical corporations need to refrain from.”
Médecins Sans Frontières calls on Covid-19 medicines to be made into a public good and the removal monopoly control.
They haven’t taken the advice, which means, self-regulation is not going to stop the profiteering. Governments must step in to end it.
Simple ways to do this are to impose a price ceiling and make all Covid-19 related medicines generic. Generic medicines deny exclusive markets and cut down the capacity to price gauge. They also prevent governments being pulled in as de facto marketing agents for these pharmaceutical multinationals.
A major barrier is the matter of intellectual property. The companies claim that they own the medicine and have a right to the rewards. Countering this is that this should not override the public interest in times of crisis. Few governments have problems in getting around this when they want to.
The classical case was during World War Two, when control over the allocation of resources was taken. There is also the possibility of changing the law.
This would contribute to a much better response to the pandemic and promote a holistic approach. Too much emphasis is being placed on vaccines. They are important. But the best strategy is a combination of vaccinations, other treatments, community effort, and appropriate distancing and lockdowns.
Lifting restriction while infection rates are still high is premature and risks a new explosion of infections. The pharmaceutical multinationals will undoubtedly be pleased with this. It is the rest of us who gets to pay the price.
There is a global dimension to this issue. The poorest countries suffer the most. Within countries, it is often the richest individuals that have the best access to treatment. Elimination of intellectual rights, denying exclusive markets, and making all medicine related to Covid-19 treatment made generic, will help address the imbalance.
This is what is now before the United Nations and has the support of most nations. It is only some of the wealthiest nations of the western world that are still holding back and delaying a decision. This must change, if an even greater disaster is not the fall on humanity.