The US-based, private sector big pharma giant Gilead is set to charge $3,120 for a basic five-day course of Remdesivir. The drug is believed to be a potent life-saving drug for Covid-19. Generously they offered to discount to a mere $2,340 for programmes for US veterans and defence forces! That price however won’t extend to the poor and elderly dependent on Medicare and Medicaid.
Such price tags are even more shocking when the reported cost of production of Resdemivir is as low as $10 for a recommended, 10-day course.
Even allowing for the research costs associated with developing this drug, the bulk of the colossal charge will be pure profit. Shareholders will benefit from bigger dividends and corporate bosses will receive bumper bonuses.
The consequences of such a price tag will be pain and death for working-class people, the poor, people of colour and those living in neo-colonial countries. Anyone 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.
Inter-imperialist rivalries and health
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 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 these production sites are starting from scratch in production of the drug making delays inevitable.
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.
The Socialist alternative
In a socialist economy things would be different. Government would fund publicly-funded universities and provide support towards the cost of teams of health researchers to discover needed drugs. State-owned medical companies would then mass produce them and distribute them on the basis of need not profit.
That socialist model is not impossible. Just consider the old British NHS system that Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and those who followed her, dismantled.
Governments pump public funds to privately-owned universities but insufficiently to meet both their running costs and the profits of shareholders. Students must sink themselves in debt to pay university fees, repayable over the rest of their lives. Meanwhile the private sector is creaming off university discoveries through targeted ‘sponsorship’. On the other hand, government awards colossal contracts and huge payments for medicines to big Pharma. Big Pharma in turn use such guaranteed income streams from government to build their own fully privately-owned 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.
Real change needed
Here in Ireland, governments north and south are happy to play their part in the feeding frenzy. We are only a cog in the global wheel. So long as Big Pharma provides a few tens of thousands of non union jobs, Dublin and Belfast are happy.
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. Compensation should be paid only on the basis of proven need.
It might seem at times such far reaching change on a world scale is beyond us. And so 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 must get active and join the fight. We must build a global movement, rooted in the working-class and youth, which will usher in a better, socialist world.