When corona and money go hand in hand

, by translated by Charlotte Knight, Voix d’Europe

When corona and money go hand in hand
Pharmaceutical companies may benefit hugely from the corona crisis. Photo credit: Julphar.uae

The world is suffering. Coronavirus is still spreading. The scientific community is determined to find a cure, a vaccine, and a solution to this pandemic as quickly as possible. At the end of March, the Discovery program was launched in some EU member states in order to increase the chances of reaching a swift and successful conclusion. However, with such a desire to resolve the situation, some have taken the opportunity to line their own pockets.

Discovery: what is it?

Finding a vaccine as quickly as possible in order to contain the coronavirus crisis - this is what is galvanising both the scientific and political communities at the moment. In order to get there, the EU launched a huge clinical trial on the 22nd March, including seven countries. Its goal is simple: to explore different treatment options to put an end to the virus. France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were immediately keen to participate.

Its approach consists of comparing the ‘standard’ treatment of Covid-19 patients to four other treatments in order to determine which is the most effective. In contrast to traditional ‘blind’ clinical trials, the type of treatments administered won’t be hidden. They will be ’open’ trials; the patients and doctors will know which treatment has been given to each person. The point here is buying time.

Originally, the study was composed of four treatment modalities. In the first group, the patients received the ‘standard’ treatment, in other words, they were a control group, who did not receive any alternative treatment. They were compared with the three other groups which each received a different treatment. One group received a treatment usually administered to those suffering from Ebola, another group received medication usually used for treating HIV, and the final group received a HIV treatment in combination with a naturally occurring infection-fighting protein.

Subsequently, France called for the addition of a fifth group in order to include the now famous chloroquine drug in the Discovery program. Florence Ader, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University Hospital Centre (CHU) in Lyon and co-director of the project, also explained that each patient receives their treatment according to their physical condition. In total, the study involved around 3,200 patients, of which 800 are French. Priority was given to patients who have the severest infections.

Four healthcare companies are involved in this clinical trial: Sanofi, Merck, AbbVie, and Gilead. All of them are, of course, hoping to put an end to this crisis as quickly as possible, however each one is also hoping that their molecule will prove to be the best treatment. It’s a race to find the best drug, a race which may bring about some underhand tactics.

The pockets of pharmaceutical companies are well lined…

Whilst many businesses have been brought to a standstill by the virus, and millions of people now furloughed or unemployed, there are still some businesses which have not felt the economic effects of the virus: pharmaceutical companies.

Described by their critics as heartless lobbies, pharmaceutical companies seem to be riding the wave of infection to make more money. Whilst the medical field is short of everything (staff, scrubs, hazmat suits, masks, and gloves) pharmaceutical companies are seeing their orders and their stock value skyrocket (+1370% for Co-Diagnostics, a test producer, and by +232% for Alpha pro Tech, a mask manufacturer). Shouldn’t these businesses be doing more as an act of solidarity when most people don’t have the means to pay for their healthcare?

These companies are living up to their reputation: a race against the clock is in full swing and anything goes in the race to the finish line. Their motivation is: the company who finds the most effective and efficient treatment will receive orders from the entire planet. A gold mine of 7 billion people.

Nevertheless, some companies, such as Sanofi, and Bayer, have for example made donations of chloroquine molecules to clinical trials. The crisis is a situation that is testing their ability to combine speed and an effective healthcare response. Pharmaceutical companies could be the big bad wolf, profiting from healthcare systems. However, their work is without a doubt saving thousands of lives. We can only hope that, if a cure is found, these companies will make it affordable to everyone.

The Mafia is benefitting from Covid

In Italy, the Mafia is benefiting from the health crisis. According to Roberto Saviano (journalist and author of Gomorrah), the Mafia is distributing food and is contributing to the granting of free loans to the worst-off, in order to gain their trust. A hotline has had to be set up to allow people to report these activities, which are not as charitable as they may seem. This phenomenon can also be seen in Latin America, where gangs and cartels have stopped asking for money for safety reasons. They are also helping the population, enforce lockdown rules and give out information about health risks. In Japan, the Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia) has sent 30,000 masks to China.

Whilst on the one hand these groups are trying to ‘help’, they are also trying to benefit from the situation. In fact, mafia gangs are also seeking to take over businesses that are in difficulty. According to Saviano, Italy is hoping to receive European funding in order to deal with the economic crisis correctly, in order to avoid difficult situations for smaller businesses who, if the need arose, would have to find new ‘partners’.

This often means turning to mafia groups. Saviano explained “if Europe doesn’t intervene soon, the multiplying of Mafia-linked money, which is already seen in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and in Belgium will become uncontrollable.” Saviano also said that in Naples, pawnbrokers have cancelled interest on their debts by order of the Camorra. The aim? To get ‘favours’ in exchange, which could be, for example: votes in elections or dummy companies for contracts.

The German newspaper Die Welt has also shone light on the role of the mafia during this pandemic. The newspaper explained that “in Italy, the Mafia is now just waiting for a new windfall from Brussels” and went on to warn Europe against granting ‘limitless’ and ‘unrestricted’ funds in response to the crisis caused by Covid-19.

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