Activists at UN Use Disgraced Martin Shkreli to Put a Face on Drug Gouging

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March 10, 2016; Mashable

We understand that these pictures may be disturbing, but bear with us. NPQ has written about notoriously reviled former big-pharma executive Martin Shkreli before. As the disgraced ex-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals awaits trial for fraud, Shkreli’s detractors and HIV drug activists campaigning for developing and providing affordable medicine are using Shkreli to quite literally put a face to the issue of drug price hikes.

The protest is taking place outside the UN High Level Panel for Access to Medicine in London, which ran from Wednesday, March 9th, through today, March 11th. The panel is meant to “to review and assess proposals and recommend solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies.” This discussion will address possible impediments to the access to drugs.

During that time, the protesters from Youth Stop Aids are wearing masks of Shkreli’s face, while other protestors are in lab coats representing the pharmaceutical companies’ role in the drug crisis. It seems to the protestors Shkreli is an easy and recognizable target because of his very public and unapologetic decision to significantly hike the price of a lifesaving HIV drug, but he’s only meant to be a representation of the problem in an industry that continually puts economic and financial incentives over social considerations in developing affordable drugs.

“Martin Shkreli has become a supervillain that everybody loves to hate—but he’s a product of a broken system,” says Tabitha Ha, a coordinator of the nonprofit Youth Stop AIDS. “Millions of people all over the world don’t have access to the life-saving medicines they urgently need. This is because the system for developing new medicines is driven by profit rather than the health needs of the people.”

Indeed, Shkreli’s behavior, while unfortunate, has brought the issue of drug price-gouging to the forefront. Shkreli’s face was most recently seen when he was taken to task by a congressional committee on drug prices, at which he choose to plead the Fifth, much to the chagrin of the committee members.

“Drug company executives are lining their pockets at the expense of some of the most vulnerable families in our nation,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). “It’s not funny, Mr. Shkreli. People are dying and they’re getting sicker and sicker.”

But the fact that a congressional committee took up the topic of addressing the business practices of some in the pharmaceuticals industry illustrates that leaders, globally and domestically, recognize the issue at hand and are willing to hold those in power accountable. Shkreli is only one frustrating cog in a much bigger machine, but his actions have nonetheless had significant consequences.—Shafaq Hasan