They don’t cure anything!!
I was recently at a dinner party. First of all, if you work for a pharma company, you don’t get invited to a lot of dinner parties. But when you do and meet someone new and tell them that you work for a pharma company, there is an inevitable awkward silence of a few seconds. The other guy looks at you with the expression on his face – why me? I came here to relax and now I have to be nice to this drug dealer guy.
I met a guy at the party while I was pouring my scotch on the rocks. He wanted the same thing as well. I liked him immediately. But then he added some diet coke to his single malt scotch. I disliked him immediately. Diet coke with single malt scotch? I mean, come on! I guess it takes all sorts to make this world.
When we eventually got to chatting and I mentioned that I worked for a pharma company, he skipped all the foreplay and went straight for the endgame. “Why”, he said while sipping his single malt scotch contaminated with diet coke (I have nothing against diet coke), “do the pharma companies only treat the diseases but never provide any cures for any disease, ever?”
I laughed since the absurdity of the question can only be attributed to a joke or immense stupidity on the questioner’s part. He looked at mea bit puzzled expecting an answer. I stopped laughing.
“What makes you think that the pharma companies only provide treatments and not cures?”, I asked.
And I kid you not, he mentioned a Chris Rock clip from one of his stand up shows. I pointed out that yes, I’ve seen the whole show, it was funny, I enjoyed it but it wasn’t backed by scientific facts. It was meant to entertain people by simplifying the complex facts. He pulled out his phone and showed me the clip on youtube and we watched it together. Here it is.
He put the phone back in his pocket and looked at me with a triumphant smile of a prosecutor who has just introduced a key eye witness to the proceedings. I told him that new vaccines and antibiotics are introduced to the market every year and by definition, those things cure the disease, that the vaccines protects you against the diseases for life, not just teach you to live with them, that the antibiotics cure your body of the bacteria infection in your body for life.
I asked him to compare his vaccination chart with his kids’ and identify any vaccines that weren’t available few decades back.
About 20% of patients survive cancer now compared to twenty years ago. Do you have any loved ones who have survived cancer? Apparently, yes. His sister was a breast cancer survivor. I asked him whether she was diagnosed and treated for that cancer in last twenty years. Yes. If she’d contracted the cancer twenty years ago, she most likely wouldn’t have survived it, I pointed out.
The conversation seemed longer than it really was. I tried my best to show him that the pharma companies do try to find a cure and when we can’t find a cure, we settle for the treatment. The primary purpose of the pharma industry existence is to save lives and ease pain. I told him about a bunch of other diseases that are not lethal anymore due to the treatment available. Thankfully by then I had to tend to one of my kids and I excused myself to do that.
But thinking it over afterwards, I realized how pervasive this kind of thinking is. The guy I had a chat with wasn’t hostile, he was just ill informed and had heard only one side of the story – the anti-pharma side. In the absence of the other side, he can’t be blamed for believing the only story available to him. He was open minded and was willing to engage, his cocktail etiquette notwithstanding.
But not everyone is presented with the other side of the story like he was by me. and in the absence of the truth, the people are bound to believe what’s presented to them. I went back to the youtube page of the above Chris Rock clip and went straight to my favorite part – the comment section. The internet comment section are like the bathroom graffiti – anybody can right anything. Few samples from the comments section of this clip – the actual comments written by well-meaning, smart, genuinely caring, concerning members of our society who believed everything they wrote down.
Does anyone else find this deeply disturbing? The pharma industry, like all other sectors, has its ugly side and that needs to be addressed. No arguments there. But how do you respond to an outright lie such as the one above. Or more importantly, is there any effort to educate the public about the good side of the pharma while still acknowledging the ugly side? It has been almost twenty years since Chris Rock came out with that joke and there have been many more jokes and articles and blog posts and youtube videos along those incorrect claims. What has the pharma industry done to rebut it? isn’t it about time to tell our side of the story?