Sunday, June 29, 2008


Well, I am not one to usually write a blog off the top of my head, but it has been a while since I last blogged. I have just had the most frustrating meeting since arriving here and need to share it with The Dhaka Project family.

We have been asking for discount from Glasko Smith Kline (GSK) for a great deal of vaccinations that we have given our kids and staff within the last few months. Our current bill totalls 450,000tk and the team have been asking for a small discount for the vaccinations we are providing the ultra-poor.

Because of our request I was visited by the snr area manager of GSK to discuss our issues about paying the total costs of the bill. I took this as a chance to challenge this drug company for their wonderful morals and also lack of any form of social responsibility.

Whilst I listened to his case about how this monopolistic multinational is giving so much to the poor and disadvantaged people of this country. My response was to ask him what constituted the costs of providing a vaccination. Whilst not really thinking, he started to rattle off costs of a typhoid vaccination:
- $2USD (140tk) to make the vaccine – “no more than 150tk” he was quoted to say to us.
- 150tk to keep the vaccine chilled and delivered to the intended destination

To me that was much less than his 450tk that GSK wanted to initially charge us (this is the cheap price they reserve for the poor within their pricing plan). So on questioning whether GSK is making a 50% profit on all immunisations they sell to the poor he started to rattle off more overhead fees that mean that we are paying “cost price”:
- 8% for Admin/Staff/Service
- 2.5% VAT
- 2.25 Tax

With my calculations these costs totalled up to 338.5tk. Still not the 361.6tk that GSK were currently asking from us. (I should also note that these overheads seemed to be a quick backtrack by our GSK friend.)

So I asked him if he was proud to know that he was making at least 23.1tk profit off every lifesaving vaccination that GSK sell to us here at The Dhaka Project – all I got was a chuckle! I was not sure if that meant he was proud of it or just awkward about the whole situation.

But now I had put him in an awkward situation, the discounts for us here at The Dhaka Project kept on flying – I felt now that he wanted to shut me up and buy me out of making him feel bad for taking profit off some of the poorest people in the world.

I refused a discount for our bill – I didn’t just want shut up money for The Dhaka Project vaccinations, I wanted to change things on a large scale. I want all the 40% of people below the poverty line not to get ‘screwed’ (as I eloquently put it) by multinationals like GSK. Why should they look to make profit off the poorest of the poor? I don’t care how much they are charging us in Australia, The Emirates, Europe or the States… but I do care about is how much profit they are taking from sales to the poor.

So I offered GSK that I will pay the outstanding bill only if they detail the costs of how much it costs to manufacture their vaccinations (of which I informed him that I of course will publicise). Speaking very passionately now, I told him that I had no issues with the current bill. I just want GSK to realise what difference they can make in this country – “screw who ever you want, just don’t screw your own people here in Bangladesh who are at the bottom of the pile - who often don’t even know where their next meal is coming from. It is these people who are dying from immunisable diseases and you want to make a profit off them rather than save their lives.”

I detailed the potential benefits they as a company could make to this nation – it felt quite surreal to be teaching a Bangladeshi on the difference he can make to his own country.

Whilst no resolution was really made, I felt proud as a human to stand up to a drug company the size of GSK, and give them a lecture in their responsibilities to society. Forty percent of Bangladesh (60 million people) lives under $1 a day. These are the people that die everyday of immunisable diseases – and here sits GSK not want to saves lives, rather make profit!

So what started with the possibility of each typhoid injection costing 450tk each, GSK left the office this afternoon offering us 330tk per injection. Of which I have not accepted, rather I want to either see the manufacturing cost breakdown of each injection or to have a meeting with a senior executive in the Bangladesh office to discuss their responsibility to Bangladesh more. To me this point is not on behalf of our 650 kids, rather 60 million of the poorest people of the world.

Please stay tuned for my next episodes with GSK.

And Finally a quote from the CSR section of GSK's website "In 2007 we supplied 1.1 billion vaccine doses. Of these 78 per cent were shipped for use in developing countries."
It is such a pity that a company that recorded a profit of 7.5 billion Pounds last year are selling the vaccines for profit here!

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