Satanic and Genocidal? Says Who?

2014-01-21 19:53

Our minister of health cried "satanic" and "genocide" last week when responding to corporate initiatives to protect international intellectual property rights in the pharmaceutical industry. It goes without saying that we all want the best drugs and maximum value for our tax buck in the fight against AIDS, but are we really entitled to a free (or cheap) lunch at someone else's expense in a world of several billion people? Because that is what the erosion of Intellectual Property protection amounts to at the end of the day. In making his comments, the health minister brought the values of the entitlement-state into ever sharper focus, and ignored for the umpteenth time the fact that freebies and cheapies do not really happen because someone somewhere is always called on to pay the bill. He prefers to work on the principle that down the line, someone else will pick up the tab - maybe not even a financial one but an opportunity cost nonetheless - so why not try to make someone else cough up? His outburst is iconic of an attitude that pervades swathes of the South African economy, education and much of public life, with the common thread being the notion of pre-emptive privilege. How such privileges are come by, earned or accrued is small beer relative to the right to pick their fruits and benefits, which are invariably promoted as being due on account of "social justice" considerations, the "promotion of human dignity" and similar platitudes.

In defending government's attitude, Minister Motsoaledi claimed “They (multinational corporates) want to prove to patients that the lack of access to medicine has nothing to do with Intellectual Property but everything to do with the incompetence of the government,” and “They are not hoping to influence government; they are hoping to influence society to turn against government”. Right on Mr. Motasoaledi!

How perceptive of you to figure that out.

As always happens with an incapacity to grasp beyond the immediately obvious, the thrust of the "genocide" argument invokes indignation, allegations of exploitation, the insinuation of racism and - as always - discredits capitalism.

None of these are surprising - nonetheless they ill befit a cerebral democracy which, admittedly and sadly, we are not.

What goes wholly unrecognised though is the need for such corporations to recoup a speculative and vast investment typically running to billions of dollars already sunk  into Research and Development .

Still more importantly, the effects of watering down patent protections diminishes initiative, discourages future research and erodes prospects for medical advances. It is discriminating of many who will in the future suffer from ill health on the planet from as yet untreatable diseases - and to future generations of human beings who may yet do so.

So - what makes us so special that we should feel entitled to get our goodies at a discount? Would only Satan refuse us?

Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up the psyche of your political party, doesn't it, Mr Motsoaledi? Everything you are denied automatically becomes someone else's fault!

And now it would seem to be the work of the devil too.

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