My frequent version of resting after classes and work was voluntarily watching chemistry and pharmacology lectures. After a random movie night, I even once taught a friend majoring in computer science what IUPAC nomenclature is—which pertains to a method of naming organic compounds.
This is the world that I fell in love with—chemistry—and I am ecstatic about all of it. The fascination for this branch of science mixed with my childhood of building blocks, mathematics, and biology led to the birth of a chemical engineering student who wanted a specialization in pharmaceutical sciences. But to say the least, the chemical engineering program was and is a humbling experience. Despite this, my love for it always took over.
However, I am not here to talk about what I love; I am here to talk about what I hate about the pharmaceutical industry.
It has a hefty role in healthcare; our medicines and supplies exist and are available to us because of it. Supposedly, it is an inherent part of their position to provide inclusive, affordable, and accessible drugs to all. But despite the beauty of it on the outside, it is also important to acknowledge the elephant in the room: Big Pharma.
Big Pharma is the monster that declares the silently god forbidden rule: only the higher classes get to take care of their health; if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. With its indefensible prices, Big Pharma is no less than harmful, cruel, and almost immoral. It has forgotten to put health workers and patients first.
For example, back in 2015, an oral antiparasitic drug called Daraprim—common for treating infections such as malaria—jumped from a price of USD13.50 to USD750 overnight, simply because it was acquired by some start-up company. This resulted in the cost of overall malaria treatment rising to tens of thousands of dollars in a blink of an eye. The drug’s new owner even claimed that they “should have raised it higher, to gain more profits.” I heard about this three years after it happened, and I am still mad about it now. But what makes matters worse is that this is a common practice.
Corruption bears many definitions that may vary based on the context of where it is rampant. However, there is one thing that remains constant: the moral indecency. With an ever-curious inkling in chemical engineering and pharmaceutical sciences, Big Pharma only grew as I dug deeper. Corruption in this horrid healthcare system bears too many faces all rooted in a broken system ruled by money—and again, not by service.
The Big Pharma-fueled pharmaceutical industry is governed by lies sold to its consumers and a false sense of safety through information locked away from its consumers. The corruption may reveal itself in a patient buried six feet underground, unable to receive treatment due to the towering bills. On another day, Big Pharma sells an overly expensive drug to their patients—the cheaper and equally effective alternatives buried in the sand. Or perhaps the monster subtly calls, disguising itself as a medical salesperson advertising an overpriced drug to patients, its side effects unknown to its desperate taker. While these problems exist all around the world, the Philippines remains to be a great example of how Big Pharma reigns.
Among many other cases, could anyone ever forget how, at the time in February 2021, we were sold less effective Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines for a heftier price? Case trials showed an effectiveness of 50.4 percent, implying that nearly the majority of citizens could still be vulnerable to the virus. Despite this, two jabs of it were estimated to cost P3,629—almost five times more than another available and more effective option in Astra Zeneca’s vaccine. The only communicated reason for this was that the former was an inactivated vaccine. These vaccines are only historically expensive because they require more doses for immunity—thus, more resources. But this doesn’t justify the pricey purchase from China. Compared to how much Thailand and Indonesia got these, the Philippines paid at least twice or thrice the price.
During a rapidly escalating pandemic, the higher cost translated to less supply available to the Filipinos. On top of this, it is also important to remember that the first to receive jabs were health workers—those most exposed to the virus. Surely a more effective vaccine should have been used. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Big Pharma was not born out of the pandemic, and I am certain that all of us could cite both national and personal experiences of how we paid more worth than the healthcare we received.
With all due honesty, how strongly I wish that I could name a way for us—common students, patients, health workers, and people—to remedy such problems.
No one deserves to be stuck in such a broken system. Yet unfortunately, the direct power to change this is not in our hands. And so, we are left with this: calling on companies for empathy, transparency, and honest service. We must pressure governments to change their ways; to trace back to the industry’s real purpose; to take care of its patients, health workers, and consumers. All of this is a heartbreaking realization, and only—hopefully, temporary—helplessness further fuel the anger born against it.
One reply on “Paging the titan on watch”
It continues to be a problem in most of the world, but it affects us much more due to us being a poorer country. I can see the weight and emotion in this article, and hope that action really takes place for the betterment of the world. A spectacular piece from the author!