For our second Milestone in our Food for Thought class, we were asked to look at an issue through the lens of monocultures of the mind.
I chose the conflict between Bayer and Natco over Bayer’s drug Nexavar and the compulsory license given by the Indian government to allow Natco to create a generic version to sell at a much more affordable price to the Indian people. Confusion was my behind my choice. I wanted to be pushed to try and understand something that made no sense to me and have to see both sides of the conflict and what they each stand to lose.
This assignment was difficult because I wanted to simply say that Bayer was wrong and show how a monoculture was being promoted because of a lack of access, but what kept coming back to me was the equally relevant question of money and the need for compensation. Seeing both sides of this made it not only hard to take a stand for one side, but also to clearly communicate the idea of monocultures and the impact they have on society. It was tricky to write because of how I wanted to see both sides get what they need, but it was the only way to do it for me.
Monocultures and Drug Patents
Monoculture. A word that was originally used to describe agriculture has morphed into something to describe homogeneous cultures lacking in diversity. This is something that has provided comfort for those that fit into that society for many years, but misery for those who do not.
Humanity has not always responded well to diversity. Vandana Shiva connects monocultures of the mind, an extension of monocultures into the way we perceive society, to globalization. She believes that globalization is based on homogenization and the destruction of diversity. Shiva claims that this violence and destruction is rooted in the threat that differences bring. Varying degrees of violence have been taken towards, not only those who are different, but that which is different as well throughout history. It is important to acknowledge that not all monocultures have been enforced maliciously, but have existed because of lack a of understanding.
Currently, a dispute in India about a drug that is used to treat kidney and liver cancer threatens the lives of many impoverished people. Bayer has created Nexavar, or sorafenib, and is selling it for $5,600 per month, something that less than 200 people in India could afford in 2011. In March of 2012, India authorized Natco Pharmaceuticals to sell a generic copy of this drug to the Indian people. They require Natco to pay a 6% royalty of net sales to Bayer and the drug itself will cost $176 a month, 3% of what Bayer is currently charging.
The decision made by the Indian government gives Natco a compulsory license for the drug. Compulsory licenses are used to make drugs more available and affordable to the public, to help eliminate monocultures. Few countries have used compulsory licenses for any type of drug and India is the second to use one with a cancer drug. One of the main reasons that pharmaceutical companies are against these licenses is the amount money they lose. Bayer wants to see a change in how a reasonable drug price is evaluated by compulsory licenses. The US and Western European drug markets sales have been slowing down recently and drug companies look to places like India, with emerging markets, for sources of growth and profit.
I believe that this is a question of fighting monoculture in that Bayer is denying those in need of something that could allow them to live for a couple more months. Drug patents create a world that leaves many people lacking what they to survive. They create a monoculture that only allows a certain group to be able to afford medication. Recognition of the huge difference in people’s ability to pay needs to be achieved so that a culture can be created where more people benefit and everyone’s needs are understood and, hopefully, met.
In order for a resolution to come, a dialogue is needed. At such a negotiation, I would hope to see representatives from Bayer, Natco and some of the Indian people in need of Nexavar. It is essential that the conversation is grounded in the realities of each person there. In order to guarantee an environment that eliminates as much of the power of status as possible rice, dal and chapati will be served. This allows for an clear understanding of differences in day-to-day life in food between the people present through a medium that is easily grasped. Of course, the differences that are preventing people from being treated need to be explored and resolved, but I want this dialogue to help people understand that there is a very real financial piece that cannot be ignored, regardless of how good anyone’s intent may be. While the need is very real, so is the money the company loses.
Monocultures can be something enforced viciously, but I believe that this conflict is based on people not wholly knowing the need and the reality of the other side. A monoculture is only in place because of a lack of awareness as to what exists outside our lives, on both sides. Drug patents have made life extremely difficult for many people with high prices on drugs they desperately need, but the reality of money and business is still relevant even with such desperation. The monoculture created by drug patents certainly exists and is impairing the lives of the less fortunate, but with cooperation and the desire from both parties to help get what they need, good can be done and a compromise can be made.