Case 1: Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson sues the American Red Cross for using the famous “red cross” logo on commercial products that seemingly compete with J&J’s own first-aid, red-cross-branded products. Last week, a federal judge ruled that J&J was in the wrong and the international relief agency could continue to use its iconic symbol on sold products, the revenue of which by the way goes right back into the agency’s humanitarian efforts.
Sixteen nations signing the Geneva Conventions officially approved the use of the red cross emblem in 1863, the same year as the founding of International Committee of the Red Cross, as a protective symbol to be placed on humanitarian and medical vehicles and buildings on the battlefield. J&J has been using the symbol for more than a century as well so while the company’s claim has backing, I don’t understand why a pharma company would go after an organization such as the Red Cross whose mission is to provide aid to victims of disaster and is responsible for fulfilling the mandates of the Geneva Conventions within the United States. Are they bored? If so, perhaps they could spend more time on developing drugs that continue to be on top of the global agenda. See below.
Case 2: World Health Organization leaders constantly feel the need to press the pharmaceutical industry to develop effective, affordable treatments for parasites and tropical diseases that impact millions in developing nations. Take their 2006 report, Neglected Tropical Diseases—Hidden Successes, Emerging Opportunities.
According to that report, approximately 1 billion people, or one sixth of the world’s population, suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases. And according to a Sept. 13, 2007 WHO press release, between 1975 and 1999, only 13 of about 1400 new drugs developed were for tropical or neglected diseases. Yet, these so-called “diseases of poverty” contribute to over 50% of the burden of diseases in low-income developing countries, according to WHO.
Pharma companies do donate drugs to developing nations to fight these diseases every year, at an estimated value in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to PhRMA. In fact, in February, the association applauded “President Bush’s proposal to increase the United States’ commitment to fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as trachoma, schistosomiasis, and river blindness,” stating that pharmaceutical companies’ efforts along with this support offer “great hope that we can bring an end to the devastation they cause.”
If pharmaceutical firms belonging to PhRMA truly support these statements, then we should be seeing more cooperation to get affordable treatments into the nations that need our help most.
Case 3: On the upside, industry has been extremely helpful and attentive in responding to the most recent natural disaster in China. The earthquake that impacted 50,000—and counting, has led several pharma companies to pitch in. Sinopharm donated $3.57 million in drugs and medical devices that include ventilators, electrocardiogram monitors, and IV infusion kits. China Pharma Holdings donated more than $280,000 worth of antibiotics, antivirus, and anti-cold products. And Jade Pharmaceutical donated more than $70,000 in products to the China Red Cross. Help continues to arrive to relief organizations in the region from pharmaceutical companies, including J&J, all over the world.
Ironically, J&J affiliate companies in China have announced a commitment of $1.4 million to the Red Cross Society of China for relief efforts there.
Overall, it seems industry is willing to go above and beyond its individual agenda to help others—when and where it’s convenient. This love-hate relationship with helping those who can’t help themselves is typical of other industries as well, and even of individuals around the world. Many even say it’s human nature to please or help oneself first. But this industry has the potential to do and be so much more.