I teach quality in a graduate health services management programme. One of the measures of quality is customer loyalty. And key to determining or destroying customer loyalty are first impressions and critical incidents. It is the latter phenomenon that has changed my career focus over the past year. Up until the incident I am about to describe I was quite content to teach, do my research, do some public speaking and the odd bit of consulting – the normal life of an academic.
Imagine my surprise when one morning it was brought to my attention that I was under personal attach by someone I had never met. My character was under attack just because I spoke the truth, had an opinion, and dared to ask questions! That is what we academics do: search for the truth; espouse opinions based upon the facts – full or partial; and, above all, ask questions. The last I looked, Canada and the United States (from whence this attack originated) still guaranteed our God-given right to free speech.
So, in the spring of 2008, I was quite surprised to be shown by a friend my name in an Essential Information release. Until then I had never heard of them and they had never contacted me.
At the time I was proud to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Asthma Society of Canada (ASC) nearing the end of my term of service. The ASC is Canada’s voice for the patient with asthma, COPD and allergies. I was quite excited to have worked with the ASC to create and launch the Asthma Patient’s Bill of Rights – which is all about living well with asthma including timely access to treatments (which is a huge problem in Canada’s socialized healthcare system.) At the 2008 IAPO Congress (International Alliance of Patient Organizations), where I was the ASC’s voting delegate, I presented a paper co-authored with Lis Fowler on patient-centred care for asthma. I am also a signatory to the Patient Declaration on Medical Innovation and Access. I am proud of our work with patients in Canada and around the world.
Essential Information charged that my signature on the Patient Declaration was bought and paid for by the research-based pharmaceutical industry – you know, those guys who save lives – because ASC accepts unconditional donations from that industry. I responded on a number of blogs that seemed to be interconnected with Essential Information but none of them posted my reply. Finally a blog called Patients and Patents (which I thought was appropriate seeing as this was the first time I had ever done anything like this) posted my response.
In an ideal world the ASC would have a much larger budget than it does. For years it has fallen short of what it needs and without the unconditional support of industry (and not just pharmaceutical firms) it would be in a crisis. I asked Essential Information, whoever they are, to step up and contribute. Asthma is rampant amongst Canadians yet little funding has been allocated to it as a chronic disease by our governments. Of course, we never heard from them. They were not earnest; they were just hired guns taking cheap shots at those who try to help.
The fact that the ASC accepts unconditional corporate donations had no bearing on my willingness to sign the Patient Declaration – it was the right thing to do. To suggest anything else, as Essential Information did, was irresponsible and rubbish.
But that was not the end of this fiasco.
A little later, out of the blue, I received an interesting email which I have cut and pasted below. When an adversary has to get personal it is always a good sign that s/he is losing the argument – and knows it. This is the illiterate “attack” email I received:
Have you been paid to blog on the patients and patents [sic]web site? http://patientsandpatents.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/who-profits-from-patents-being-voided/
You suggest that NGOs working on the patent issue are funded by generic drug companies. Are you making this allegation about me or anyone from Knowledge Ecology International?
Do you know why the WHO essential drug lists does not have any patented medicines on it, outside of the those [sic] listed for the treatment of AIDS?
Do you think that poor people living in developing countries would not benefit from access to any patented medicines?
I look forward to your response.
Director, Knowledge Ecology International”
None of the blogs associated with Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) wanted to post my response. Surprise! And I did not want to engage Patients and Patents in a personal matter, so once my summer vacation was over last year I asked a friend to make a blog for me so that I could post my response. Here it is:
Now, normally I would not respond to such a rude, unsolicited email such as this, but by the time I had stopped laughing I thought I would make this one exception. You see I had never read a blog, seen a blog, let alone written to one until last May when I was attacked (as well as the patient organization whose board I sat on at the time) by something called Essential Information – who, by the way, never contacted me beforehand.
I responded to their attack on May 4 and I sent my message to Essential Information, other sites to which it was linked, and still other sites that were related. The only blog to print my comments was Patients and Patents.
So let me answer his questions.
No, I am not paid by Patients and Patents to write on their blog. Like I said I knew nothing about blogs until the incident above. I am a tenured professor at McMaster University where I am very well paid to search for the truth as a director of a graduate programme in health services and an institute dedicated to health leadership. My salary is disclosed to the media every year as per legislative requirements in Ontario. Since the initial attack on me I have written a few other postings, sent them to various blogs that seem to write about these issues, but Patients and Patents is the only one to pick them up. Not my fault that the editors at these other sites will not publish my thoughts.
Until Mr. Love emailed me I had never communicated with him. If he re-reads my postings I don’t mention him or anyone else that I don’t know or haven’t talked to. That is not a bona fide researcher’s style.
Of course, I believe that people in developing countries would benefit from patented medicines. That is why I have written about the REAL barriers to access: corruption, politics, fanaticism, lack of infrastructure (for NGO staff to deliver the drugs in their air-conditioned Mercedes and Range Rover vehicles), inadequate health human resources, poverty, and the lack of political will in developing countries to divert funds away from the ruling elites and their military guards to the people and their greatest needs – potable water, food, health care and education.
But it is not just medicines that developing countries need. As we have found out in developed countries, the surest way to attack HIV/AIDS is through a combination of abstinence and monogamy. President Bush got it right when he shipped mosquito nets to Africa as a low-tech, inexpensive, efficacious, common sense prophylaxis against malaria.
Non-patented drugs were at one time patented and were developed for use by everyone around the world due to the incentives built into the patent protection system. Do away with that – as Love and others propose – and you will see no new drugs developed for the diseases ravaging developing countries.
Now tell me, Mr. Love, who does fund KEI? I’ve told you where I draw my salary from. Your website does not disclose your sources of funding. It does say that you provide advice to companies. Who are these companies? How much do they pay you? Your website also does not disclose that KEI principals are paid significant salaries by Essential Action, which is part of the outfit that attacked me and my good intentions of supporting patients around the world. Why is that?
KEI is much less transparent about its funding than most NGOs and patient advocacy groups let alone public universities in Canada. So, how could I possibly allege anything about you or your outfit when no one knows anything about you?
Of course, there has been no response from Mr. Love to date – and I did not expect one.
Why have I written this for The Cameron Institute to which I am quite pleased to have become affiliated? Because many NGOs and other like-minded enterprises call themselves “civil society”. I have volunteered for and donated to good causes all my life. But there is nothing “civil” about Essential Information, KEI or any of the other well-paid, attack dogs representing hidden special interests all in the name of good, when in fact they represent the worst of the human condition.
“Health for all” was a clarion call for action a number of years ago. Canada and the world have failed to meet this call. I know The Cameron Institute will challenge conventional thinking and propose policy changes to move Canada and the world closer to this goal. But we need to do this together – not divide and conquer for personal gain.
We look forward to your involvement in a true civil society where health for all is realized.