The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   N E W S W A T C H

U.S. Sides With Drug Companies; Pressures Bangladesh to Halt Ban

The U.S. State Department, doing the bidding of American drug companies, is putting the heat on the government of Bangladesh to halt a policy designed to improve the health of Bangladesh's people.

On May 31, the Bangladesh government announced that it was removing 1700 unnecessary or dangerous drugs from the local market (see MM, August, 1982). U.S. drug firms operating there oppose this action, and have taken their concerns to the U.S. government. Obliging, the State Department has urged Bangladesh not to go ahead with its policy.

"We've been in consultations with the government (of Bangladesh) on this," says Ralph Lieberman, State Department officer at the Bangladesh desk. "I can confirm that we requested a delay of implementation" of the law.

Asked why the State Department was interceding, Lieberman said the U.S. government wanted to give Bangladesh's authorities a "chance to consult with a wider variety of people" on the question of "access to health care." He added that "groups within Bangladesh, and of course, U.S. companies" have raised objections. The policy, says Lieberman, "certainly would affect the profit concerns" for U.S. drug manufacturers.

There is a great deal of "pressure being brought by multinationals and in particular, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mrs. Coon," according to one reliable source in that country. The drug industry newsletter, Scrip, also reports that "the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh, Mrs. Jane Coon, has been instructed to call on the Chief Martial Law Administrator, Lt. General Hussain Mohammad Ershad, and the health adviser, Major General Shamsul Haq" to express the U.S. government's dissatisfaction with the policy.

The support the U.S. government has been giving multinational drug companies in Bangladesh has raised the ire of international health, church and development groups.

In an August 18 letter to Secretary of State George Shultz, Public Citizen's Health Research Group termed the U.S. policy "unconscionable."

Signed by Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Washington-based health organization, the letter expresses "dismay" that "our State Department permits itself to be used by the giant multinational drug companies to promote and protect their exploitation of the impoverished citizens."

Dr. Wolfe points out in his letter to Shultz that Bangladesh is attempting to withdraw from its market some of the same drugs that "the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has ordered to be removed from the U.S. market" because "they were considered too dangerous."

Other organizations have sent telegrams or letters of support to the Bangladesh government, including: the Britishbased War on Want, Oxfam England, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York, the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, and the U.S. National Women's Health Network.

Currently, the Bangladesh policy to ban dangerous or useless drugs is still on the books, and "it is being implemented," says Abigur Rahman, economic attache at Bangladesh's Washington embassy. "There is no question of it being withdrawn."

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