It has been revealed that the US-based, private sector big pharma giant Gilead is set to charge $3,120 for a basic five-day course of its life-saving drug for Covid-19, Remdesivir. They have offered to discount to a mere $2,340 for US government programmes for veterans and defence forces but that price won’t extend to the poor and elderly through the Medicare and Medicaid programmes.
To make matters worse, and in another example of how the rise of nationalism is cutting across the global public health response to Covid-19, the US government under President Trump has bought all Gilead Resdemivir production lines to ensure they go to rich US citizens first. Covid victims outside the US will be left dependent on licensed production facilities – many of which are starting from scratch in production of the drug.
These moves – part and parcel of how capitalism and mounting imperialist rivalries intersect public health – will put this live-saving medicine out of reach of many, not just in the US but globally.
Despite the huge charge being touted for a short five day course, it is estimated that cost of production of Resdemivir is as low as $10 for a full recommended, 10-day course.
Now, there will have been significant research costs associated with developing this drug but even accounting for these, the bulk of the colossal charge will be pure profit: channelled to shareholders in dividends, or reflected in bumper superannuated pay and bonuses for Chief Executives and the like.
The consequences of such a price tag will be pain and death for those – principally working-class people, disproportionately the poor, people of colour and those living in now-colonial countries – unable to either access or afford this life-saving medicine.
This is just another example, and there are many in big pharma, of how capitalism puts the interests of speculators ahead of public health.
Instead let us imagine a socialist world where publicly-funded universities had teams of health researchers paid by government to discover these drugs and then they were passed over to be produced by state-owned medical companies and distributed on the basis of need not profit.
That socialist model is not impossible – indeed it is similar to the old British NHS system that Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and those who followed her, dismantled.
Instead we have a system where public money is channelled to privately-owned universities – although insufficiently, meaning students have to indebt themselves for decades to pay off fees -while the private sector are creaming off university discoveries through targeted ‘sponsorship’. On the other hand, Big Pharma gets guaranteed income from colossal government contracts and public health payments for medicines; and even direct grant-aid support to build their own fully privately-owned, but publicly-funded, research facilities.
The private sector is milking the public purse for profit from every conceivable angle. Working-class and poor people who need medicines suffer. This is the reality of modern-day capitalism.
Here in Ireland, governments north and south are happy to play their part in the feeding frenzy so long as Big Pharma provides a few tens of thousands of non-unionised and often minimum pay jobs. We are only a cog in the global wheel.
Big Pharma has its tentacles deep into every government. Real change requires the removal of profit from this sector, and all the others like it, with compensation only on the basis of proven need.
While it might seem at times such far reaching change on a world scale is beyond us, the demand for change in this, as in other areas, is growing and growing globally.
It cannot come quickly enough for those who will be denied this live-saving medicine. Capitalism is crushing the great mass of humanity, those who recognise this truth need to get active and join the fight to build a global movement, rooted in the working-class and youth, which will usher in a better, socialist world.