15. PRODUCTS UNSAFE AT HOME ARE STILL UNLOADED ABROAD

The top censored story of 1979 was called "The Corporate Crime of the Century." It revealed how U.S. corporations "dumped" illegal and dangerous products, including pharmaceuticals, on Third World countries. Apparently the practice is continuing.

In late 1982, the University of California Press published a book titled Prescriptions for Death: The Drugging of the Third World. The authors expose the questionable tactics of pharmaceutical firms wherever government regulations are weak or nonexistent.

One example given is "The Pill" which is advertised and prescribed for use only as a contraceptive in America and Britain. However, in Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Central America, many brands of the pill are touted as remedies for premenstrual tension, menstrual cramps, and even sterility. Most of them bear none of the warnings against side effects or contraindications that are routine in the U.S. and other western countries.

In 1982, Bangladesh ordered multinational drug manufacturers to halt distribution of 1,742 drugs including some product of American companies. The Ministry of Health also outlawed dangerous drugs like Clioquinol, an anti-diarrhea drug that Japan banned years ago. American companies subsequently withdrew the drug from the U.S. market voluntarily, but continued selling it abroad in developing countries.

The Reagan Administration wanted to simplify the patchwork of laws that drew international criticism ever since 1977 when companies were able to export 2.4 million sets of banned children's pajamas. A draft of the Administration's confidential trade policy proposal became public in 1982 and was approved by a Cabinet-level committee. One of the provisions was to give foreign governments volumes of regulatory export information to help them set import policies but another provision would eliminate export notification. There were other proposals but nothing was proposed to actually ban unsafe products. In reality, the Reagan proposed called for repealing a ban on export of unapproved drugs and pharmaceuticals, potentially opening a flood of such exports to developing countries that apparently have not been able to screen drugs individually.

As for drug safety, pharmaceutical manufacturers contend that a drug banned in America many have benefits outweighing its risks in other countries. Joe Boyd, spokesman for Ciba-Geigy, the American division in Switzerland, agreed that paralysis and blindness were associated with its Entero Vioform, which is among the brands of clioquinol Bangladesh had banned, but said the benefits far out-weigh risks since it treats a dysentery problem that can be life-threatening.

SOURCES:

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, Prescriptions for Death: The Drugging of the Third World, S. F. Chronicle review, by David Perlman; NEW YORK TIMES, 8/22/82, "Products Unsafe at Home are still Unloaded Abroad," by Michael deCourcy Hinds.