Film review: Fire in the blood
Be prepared to be sad, angry and even outraged when you see this film. Benedict Lam reviews “Fire in the blood”, a documentary that claims “big pharma” let millions of people die in order to protect its profits
Be prepared to be sad, angry and even outraged when you see this film
Benedict Lam reviews “Fire in the blood”, a documentary that claims “big pharma” let millions of people die in order to protect its profits
The pharmaceutical industry has been getting its fair share of bad publicity lately. First, we had Ben Goldacre’s book ‘Bad pharma’ (PJ 2012;289:526), which illustrates how far the pharmaceutical industry’s influence reaches into the practice of medicine.
Then, we had the All Trials campaign (PJ 2013;290:173), which asks for full transparency around clinical trials because, according to the campaign, thousands of trials have been carried out but results have not been reported or have been cherry-picked.
Completing the “trilogy”, “Fire in the blood”, directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, sets out to tell an intricate tale of medicine, monopoly and malice
This documentary reports that western pharmaceutical companies and governments have aggressively blocked access to medicines used to treat HIV patients (namely antiretrovirals, but medicines such as fluconazole, used to treat the symptoms of AIDS, are also mentioned) in developing countries such as Uganda.
Pharmacists are well aware that when a new drug is discovered a pharmaceutical company has exclusive distribution rights for a number of years under a patent. Governments and patients in poor countries cannot afford branded HIV medicines. According to the documentary, although generic versions were being produced in countries such as India (patent protection is country-specific), pharmaceutical companies applied for patents in some developing countries most affected by HIV, meaning that generic HIV drugs cannot be produced or imported.
American AIDS activists did not want to know about the problem in these countries because they were afraid research and development would be adversely affected. The pharmaceutical industry argued that resistance and viral mutation would occur because people in developing countries were uneducated and illiterate and would, therefore, not comply with medication regimens.
The film also investigates the influence the pharmaceutical industry has had over the US government. If poor countries broke patent laws and imported or produced generic antiretrovirals, the US government would threaten to cut their aid. As Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Prize laureate for economics, explains, patents are suppose to increase innovation, not decrease it and people are not supposed to die as a result.
Activists, journalists and industry experts give their views and express their dismay over profits being put before lives. Former US president Bill Clinton features prominently and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu makes an appearance, while a former vice-president of Pfizer Inc, Pharmacia and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals gives an industry viewpoint.
Although progress has been made to fight against what the promoters of the documentary are calling “the crime of the century”, the message is that the war is far from over as the industry finds new ways of protecting its profits.
This documentary is meant to be inflammatory and stir up strong emotions, and I think it succeeds this respect. Although I had the intention of watching this film with an open mind, I could not help but feel my blood boil by the end of it.
Given the topics of discussion, pharmacists should find this a fascinating watch, whatever their views on the industry, global health policies and human rights.
“Fire in the blood” is in UK cinemas from 25 February 2013. Check www.fireintheblood.com for listings
Citation: Electronicjuice DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11117799
Recommended from Pharmaceutical Press
The Obesity Epidemic and its Management explains the causes, dangers and treatments of obesity.£38.00
A comprehensive review of health policy, ethics, economics, and health care delivery around the world.£33.00
Reviews over-the-counter medicines, arranged by the conditions they are licensed to treat. Includes product recommendations.£38.00
Conduct successful Medicines Use Reviews (MURs) with this comprehensive book. Contains evidence-based information, tips and guidance.£27.00
Increase your understanding of pharmacotherapy prescribed to pediatric patients with these realistic case studies.£33.00