Thursday, February 5, 2009

Extreme Measures

Bill Gates has just gone up a few notches in my book - I can forgive the sleazy early Microsoft tactics and the bugs in every Windows release. Anyone who unleashes mosquitoes to try to make people feel malaria is an urgent issue gets points for unconventionality and creativity.

Gates makes some important, obvious statements: "There is more money put into baldness drugs than into malaria," and "the market does not drive scientists, thinkers, or governments to do the right thing." The first point he makes is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg - pharmaceutical companies will make as many expensive drugs as possible for people who can afford it. Rich white men afflicted with AIDS, cancer, hair loss, or erectile dysfunction will pay huge sums for treatment. AIDS cocktails and chemotherapy drugs are so unbelievably expensive and require so many doses, it seems obvious from a pharmaceutical company's perspective why it is more profitable than investing in curing malaria or tuberculosis, which are most prevalent outside the US. It is easy to criticize pharmaceutical companies...because they're so crooked and their business so engrossed in making money. Only in the US and New Zealand are prescription-only drugs advertised to the public, and our pharmaceutical companies are consistently at the top of the Forbes list with profit margins up to 10x as high as other companies. As for the second point, yes, the market does not drive companies or people to do the right thing. I disagree that it does not drive scientists or thinkers to do the right thing; rather, it drives the companies and money wielders away from scientists and thinkers who want to do the right, but unprofitable, things. Whether the businessmen of pharmaceutical companies will ever yield to their role of creating significant treatments and cures, only time will tell...

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