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Ken Adelman's (New) Lies

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One would think that an operation run by Ken Adelman -- infamous for proclaiming that U.S. forces would enjoy a "cakewalk" in Iraq* -- would, at least, be a little bit hesitant to label anyone a "liar."

But that would suggest something resembling humility and a conscience.

Among other posts, Ken Adelman now runs something called USA for Innovation. This organization has launched a massive campaign against Thailand, which has taken the noteworthy decision to prioritize public health concerns over multinational corporate interests, and authorize generic competition for several important drugs while they remain on patent.

USA for Innovation's latest release announces that it has created a website, Thailies.com, "to draw attention to the deceit in Thailand's decision to steal American and European innovation."

The group says that "today's lie" is that Thailand is a poor country that cannot afford Western medicines. To prove that Thailand is not so poor, the website cites economic data showing that the Thai economy is fast growing (which it is).

What the website does not do is provide the single most relevant statistic to determine the country's relative ability to pay the sky-high prices charged by brand-name drug monopolists: per capita income.

According to the World Bank, Thailand's per capita income is $2,720 -- roughly one-sixteenth U.S. per capita income.

One of the products for which Thailand issued a "compulsory license" -- an authorization of generic competition for a product that remains on patent -- was Kaletra, an important combination HIV/AIDS drug made by the Chicago drug giant Abbott Laboratories. Abbott's "discount" price for Thailand before it issued its compulsory license: $2,200.

Thailand maintains a public health service that aims to provide universal access to needed medicines. But the government's healthcare budget faces constraints, and it is unable to provide universal access to important medicines. The government has been very clear that the savings it obtains from generic competition will be used exclusively to provide greater coverage for the medicines it has compulsory licensed. The government says just the initial price reductions for the HIV/AIDS drug efavirenz (the patented version of which is marketed by Merck) will enable it to provide access to the drug to an additional 20,000 people; the initial price reductions for the generic versions of the Abbott product Kaletra will enable the country to quadruple the number of people receiving this lifesaving drug; and the price reduction for clopidogrel (sold by Sanofi-Aventis as Plavix) will enable Thailand to provide it in the public sector. In sum, says the government, the purpose of its compulsory licenses is "to increase access to patented essential drugs, rather than to save budget" expenditures.

Why is Ken Adelman working so hard to denounce Thailand's public health initiatives?

Adelman says he serves as senior counselor at Edelman Public Relations Worldwide.

Among its largest clients, Edelman lists Abbott Laboratories and Merck. Half of the fourteen companies Edelman lists as its largest clients are drug makers. Besides Abbott and Merck, these are AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer and Schering-Plough. (To see the firm's brochure with the top client list, go to: http://www.edelman.com/about_us/welcome/ and click on "corporate brochure" under the "about us" header.)

There are life-and-death stakes in the deception campaign run by Adelman, USA for Innovation and Big Pharma more generally. Through its compulsory licensing program, Thailand is going to keep people alive who would otherwise die, and avoid needless suffering. Adelman, Big Pharma, et. al. would prefer that the country follow the norm, which is to choose to let people die and suffer rather than offend multinational corporate interests. Adelman and Big Pharma's top priority with their pressure campaign is to send a message to other countries: Don't dare to follow the Thai example.

Unfortunately for Big Pharma, but fortunately for people in developing countries and anyone who cares about global public health, Brazil on Friday announced it would follow Thailand in issuing a compulsory license on an important HIV/AIDS drug. Big Pharma's grip may be loosening -- which means there's every reason to expect stepped-up attacks from the industry and its allies.

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* Among Adelman's other claims about Iraq:

"Hussein constitutes the number one threat against American security and civilization" (Ken Adelman, "Cakewalk in Iraq," Washington Post, February 13, 2002).

After the anthrax scare in Washington, D.C.: "I think the most likely source of this is Iraq." He went on to say, "But to tell you the truth, I don't think we have to show evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Iraq is behind a lot of the terrorism right now. Listen, this is not a court of law that we need this kind of evidence. It is war we're talking about." (Fox News, October 25, 2001)