Posts tagged with: AIDS

Last week the Federal Circuit Court handed down what seemed to many a funny decision: that human genes are patentable. Myriad Genetics owns patents for two tumor suppressor genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2 (mutations of these genes are correlated with increased incidence of breast cancer, making them of great interest to doctors and scientists). Myriad was sued by doctors and researchers who claim that genes fall into the category of “products of nature,” which makes them unpatentable, but the court disagreed.

Myriad’s patents allow it to charge licensing fees to doctors who wish to screen their patients for BRCA1/2 mutations, and also to researchers developing drugs that would target BRCA1/2 abnormalities in breast cancers. Myriad claims that its patents allow it to recover the costs of identifying the two genes, and so are just like the patents for Velcro, ShamWow, or the Segway. Aside from the legal dispute—i.e., the majority’s facially risible argument that “the molecules as claimed do not exist in nature,” since bits of the BRCA1 gene aren’t floating around in ponds—there are two problems with the patenting of genes: a moral one and a practical one.

In his Acton monograph The Social Mortgage of Intellectual Property, David H. Carey addresses intellectual property rights vis-à-vis the distribution of medicine. He focuses on the AIDS epidemic and infectious diseases in the Third World, and presents the Vatican’s 2001 argument that the principle of solidarity supersedes patent rights where the lives of the poor are at stake, even though the long-term consequences of a suspension of intellectual property might be severe.

Admittedly, personalized cancer treatment in the United States alters the moral calculation, but the American public has made its consideration, and by the establishment of the National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health), has decided to fund early stage cancer research publicly. Certainly in order recoup the billions of dollars of testing required to bring a cancer drug to market, companies need the assurance of patent protection, but the sequencing of a gene comes years before any drug begins testing (Myriad filed for its patents in 1994).

As Francis S. Collins, head of the NIH, explained in a recent book,

The information contained in our shared [genome] is so fundamental, and requires so much further research to understand its utility, that patenting it at the earliest stage is like putting up a whole lot of unnecessary toll booths on the road to discovery.

Whether the Supreme Court reverses the Federal Circuit’s decision, or Congress passes a law making clear the proper extent of patent protections, this intellectual property mess must be untangled.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a public claim it’s typically controversial. So the AP filed a story with this headline in the Jersualem Post, “Ahmadinejad blames West for AIDS.” Clearly the JP went for shock value, as most other outlets chose to title the story something like, “Iranian president: ‘Big powers’ going down.”

But there it is among a bunch of other accusations that Ahmadinejad leveled at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). According to the AP, “Ahmadinejad’s keynote speech was tailored to reflect the struggle that some NAM members see themselves in against the world’s rich and powerful countries.”

The AIDS claim is just one among many used to drive a wedge between developed and developing nations, blaming the former for the ills of the latter. But Ahmadinejad’s participation in this global blame game is part-and-parcel of what’s been going on for years.

In 2003, for instance, the proceedings of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches’ global south-south Buenos Aires conference observed that “economic globalization has created job loss and grinding poverty, an unprecedented rise in crime and violence, ecological degradation, and the spread of HIV/Aids.”

As a piece I co-wrote wondered at the time,

Just how does a system of economic exchange “cause” the spread of HIV? The only evidence offered by the ecumenists from Geneva is that “the effects of the free market system on the HIV/Aids pandemic are evident in the management and treatment of the disease.The policies and practices of transnational pharmaceutical companies have privileged profits over the health of people, and the high cost of HIV/Aids drugs and trade agreements exclude the poor from the effective treatment and prevention from infection.”

When Ahmadinejad blames AIDS on the West, he’s a pariah. But when the ecumenical movement says it, they’re seen as speaking truth to power.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
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A round-up of diverse items of interest, in no particular order:

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, April 4, 2008
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Catholic institutions provide a large percentage of the worldwide care devoted to those infected by HIV. That, combined with the Church’s stand on the immorality of contraceptive use, puts it at the center of debates about AIDS and condoms.

There have been several cases over the last two decades of criticism of religious organizations for compromising their faith dimension for the sake of some other end (often government dollars).

At the intersection of these two trends is a new controversy over Catholic Relief Services, the umbrella organization for much of the Church’s charitable work. Some are questioning whether CRS’s new policy on the dissemination of condom information is in line with Catholic teaching not to mention sound health policy.

Germain Grisez summarizes the problem in a First Things blog entry.

Jeff Mirus offers a fuller treatment at his Catholic Culture blog.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies cut through the nonsense and offer clear thinking on AIDS in Africa. Their article in the April issue of First Things more specifically criticizes a recent report on faith-based organizations and AIDS emerging from the Berkley Center at Georgetown University.

Green and Ruark take pains to be respectful and deferential toward the Georgetown researchers, even where the egregious errors of the latter might have been treated with sarcastic wit. For example, there is this:

The Georgetown report clearly gets it wrong when it states that, for the ABC approach “to be effective, abstinence and fidelity must be practiced by both partners.” In fact, abstinence is always 100 percent effective in preventing sexual transmission when practiced by an individual.

Um, yes.
The article concludes,

…the central fact that has emerged from all the recent studies of the HIV epidemic: What the churches are called to do by their theology turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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Regis Nicoll over at The Point notes a WaPo story that is getting a lot of play on the blogosphere about the UN’s downgrade of the estimate of the extent of the AIDS epidemic, “U.N. to Cut Estimate Of AIDS Epidemic: Population With Virus Overstated by Millions.”

Nicoll writes that while of course it is good news that fewer people are infected than were previously thought, “The bad news is that previous estimates were inflated because of politics, bad science, or both.”

Nicoll continues, “While reading the announcement, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with certain climate change proponents and Intelligent Design critics whose tactics involve alarmism, exaggerated estimates and the politicization of science to protect their study grants and mandarin status.”

That’s something I’ve been wondering about a long time, and have previously drawn comparisons between climate change alarmism and the exaggerated claims of the spread of AIDS (as well as between the challenged position that ID proponents and climate change skeptics share).

The financial incentive for governments, the UN, and NGOs to play up potential cash cows for their pet social and scientific agendas is one that cannot be overlooked. And it’s the sort of corruption that those who really want to tackle corruption should take a hard look at.

Blog author: dphelps
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
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Sir Bob, Free Trader?

The May 16 Independent is guest-edited by the ubiquitous Bono and sports the RED brand–another Bono project where a share of the profits from the mag will be donated to fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa. (Other companies with RED brands include Converse, American Express, Armani, and GAP.) See the issue for yourself (where you will find a critique of subsidies, as well as Nelson Mandela giving props to RED as well as an interview with commedian Eddie Izzard–two men who much too rarely share a marquee).

What is of special interest to PowerBloggers is the article by Bob Geldof, founder of Live8, titled: Aid isn’t the answer. Africa must be allowed to trade its way out of poverty. This is the same Bob Geldof who has been lobbying for huge aid packages for twenty years, the same Bob Geldof who said “We must do something, even if it doesn’t work.” It quite something that this same fella who wrote the following:

In a time of weak world leadership, when the WTO negotiators are failing so miserably, let us remind their bosses – Bush, Chirac, Merkel et al – that we agree with them when they argue that, long term, “aid isn’t the answer”, and that the continent of Africa and its people must trade its way into the global market and sit where it rightfully belongs, negotiating as equals with the rest of us.

As always, I have no interest in questioning the intentions of Bob and Co.–I think they are the noblest of intentions, and I think more people ought to share their zeal for the poor. But could this admission that long term aid isn’t the answer mean that projects like the ONE Campaign are losing their luster? Or are people realizing that governments can’t solve poverty, but maybe the corrective is individual charity and free trade amongst free peoples?

And it is also worth noting that the cover art for the mag includes “Gen. 1:27″–I will save you the trouble of looking it up: “God created man in his own image; in the divine image he created them; male and female he created them.” I am curious how far Bono has parsed out the implications of this statement, as this verse lays the foundation for many of Acton’s economic arguments (for example, see here).

Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 10, 2006
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Bryan Caplan at EconLog says that he has long wondered about the validity of the statistics of the spread of AIDS on the African continent:

The whole story had a quasi-Soviet flavor to it. The main difference: Soviet growth statistics were too good to be true, while African AIDS statistics were too bad to be true. Reflecting on the incentives cemented my skepticism: Just as the Soviet Union had a strong incentive to exaggerate its growth numbers in order to get the world’s respect, researchers and advocates had a strong incentive to exaggerate their AIDS number in order to get the world’s money.

He goes on to cite a recent Washington Post story that backs up his doubts. While Caplan may ultimately be wrong in his skepticism, I think it’s a responsible question to ask. Any system of charity or aid that faces an ongoing and high-level need should wonder about the incentives that it creates for people to take advantage of the system.

Update: More on “disease-mongering” at WorldMagBlog. I suspect there’s an analogous phenomenon in all the climate change, environmental disaster hubbub.