WikiLeaks Cables Show How Big Pharma Shapes Foreign Policy

Diplomats work hard to protect the profits of drug makers

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A new cache of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks shows how big pharmaceutical companies' lobbying efforts threaten "to taint US diplomatic relations in emerging nations," The Fix's Jed Bickman and Walter Armstrong write. Big Pharma pushes American diplomats to pressure host countries --  the Philippines, Turkey, and India, for example -- to help them make more money, often by limiting the country from making its own generic version of the drugs and extending the length of patents so the companies can charge a premium price for longer.

The Fix writes that the memos "by no means paint a uniform portrait of government lackeys doing industry's bidding." But few weigh in on the moral problems with keeping drug prices high in poor countries with a lot of people who need them. "Only a single cable -- from the outgoing US ambassador to Poland in 2009 -- lays bare the vast greed that drives these complex, highly technical negotiations." That ambassador's case study is quite interesting:
When George W. Bush appointed his former Yale roommate, Victor Ashe, as ambassador to Poland, this issue became a constant demand on his time. Almost as soon as he arrived in Warsaw, the former Knoxville, Tennessee, mayor became the obedient mouthpiece of American drug companies’ interests, writing a letter urging the Ministry of Health not to lower the prices of the drugs on that list. Each year of his tenure, his office would obsess over the announcement of that list, sending detailed cables to Washington about which companies and products had gained access to the Polish market. (“None of Eli Lilly’s products were added, a blow to the company. Eli Lilly’s officials observed that the Ministry has offered no explanation.") 
Once President Obama was sworn in and Ashe was sent packing, he apparently felt free to say what he'd been thinking. Too bad he had to wait till he was leaving office to say it.
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