To the Editor of the New York Times:
I beg to differ with Donald G. McNeil’s article, “Drug companies focus on the poor” (N.Y. Times June 25, 2019). McNeil claims that the pharmaceutical industry has lowered prices and is now helping poor countries buy needed medications. Two examples (out of thousands) illustrate the opposite. In 2018, U.S. officials threatened negative aid and trade consequences for Ecuador if the country introduced a resolution to the World Health Assembly to encourage breast-feeding; behind the scenes, the infant formula industry was lobbying the U.S. government to defeat any proposal that might threaten their profitable bottle-feeding products. In 2014, U.S. pharmaceutical companies and pro-business groups created the “astroturf campaign,” a fake grassroots movement to undermine South Africa’s efforts to lower drug prices through an amendment of its intellectual property law.
By using their power and influence to keep the costs of medicines high, and by systematically hiding their profits in overseas tax havens, pharmaceutical companies put poor people’s health at risk and deprive governments of billions of dollars in taxes that could be used to invest in healthcare.