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September 05, 2005

New Movie: 'Constant Gardener' Exposes Pharma

John Le Carre's novel "The Constant Gardener" has been a forerunner for a spate of recent books that expose various facets of the pharmaceutical horrors which befall more and more of us - those who get sick and fall for pharmaceutical propaganda on how medicines treat this or that condition. It is not by chance that the pharma-dominated medical system has become the leading cause of death and suffering in the U.S. and perhaps in the whole Western World.

Le Carre's novel has now been turned into a movie, which is hitting the theaters in these days.

Thanks to Louise of Zeus Info Service who forwarded the information and Vera Hassner Sharav of the Alliance for Human Research Protection who comments.

Promoting Openness, Full Disclosure, and Accountability

Constant Gardener, the movie based on the novel by John le Carre, about the pharmaceutical industry’s immoral and even criminal activities, opened nationwide. 


It has already received rave reviews. Below are two reviews from The New Republic and The Chicago Tribune. Given the high marks the film has received, we can expect a blitz of protests by PhaRMA and its consultant doctors who are sure to say, it’s fiction, not reality. In fact, the film provides a glimpse into the fraudulent practices in clinical trials outsourced to the sub-standard hospitals in underdeveloped countries. 

A whistleblower’s expose about the fraudulent documentation in AIDS drug trials conducted in Kenya — as reported by the Associated Press, validates Le Carre’s fictionalized description of pharmaceutical industry practices shielded by government. See:

“"The Constant Gardener" begins with a strong, angry story, and peoples it with actors who let it happen to them, instead of rushing ahead to check off the surprises. It seems solidly grounded in its Kenyan locations; like "City of God," it feels organically rooted. Like many Le Carre stories, it begins with grief and proceeds with sadness toward horror. Its closing scenes are as cynical about international politics and commerce as I can imagine. I would like to believe they are an exaggeration, but I fear they are not. This is one of the year's best films.”

Vera Hassner Sharav

- - -



Drug Abuse
by Adam Graham-Silverman
Only at TNR Online
Post date: 09.02.05

In a crowded Kenyan hospital, diplomat Justin Quayle catches sight of a dying woman undergoing mysterious tests administered by a mysterious doctor. When he returns to get more information, a nurse insists the woman and the doctor never existed. After more investigation, Quayle learns that a British drug testing company is using the hospital to fudge results for a deadly new drug to treat tuberculosis. When a patient comes along whose side effects would skew the drug trials unfavorably, her records are destroyed and her body is dumped in a mass grave.

In a Nigerian metropolis, an American drug company drops into a horribly filthy, understaffed hospital and sets up a clinic to treat children afflicted with meningitis. While half of the patients get a proven treatment, the other half get the company's latest antibiotic, which has yet to be tested on children. At first, the drug company plucks the most treatable children from the epidemic. Soon it offers treatment to all, though few realize they are consenting to be part of an experiment. After gathering enough data in three weeks for its approval studies, the drug company picks up and jets out.

The first scenario is the plot of The Constant Gardener, the new political thriller based on the book by John Le Carré. The second is the plot of an investigative story that ran in The Washington Post in late 2000, demonstrating once again, but not solving, that old question of art imitating life, or vice versa: As drug companies emerge as bad guys on screen, they are playing the same roles in the real-life developing world. Unlike a fantastical spy film, The Constant Gardener needs no special effects to paint this picture. Director Fernando Meirelles just turns the camera on the harsh realities of modern Africa.

Meirelles directed the Oscar-nominated City of God, which told gritty-yet-beautiful stories of growing up amid gang and drug violence in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. He brings that same aesthetic to this more straightforward tale: While the book tells the story from the perspective of the British diplomat Quayle, the movie's point of view feels much more African. The rusted, corrugated iron roofs of Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum, and lava-flow desert scenes shot in northern Kenya blaze an overexposed red. Meirelles does not hide the poverty and beauty of Kenya's open-air markets or crumbling hospitals and roads. The movie's cameras don't fear bouncing around up close with its characters. Also to his credit, Meirelles shows AIDS's reach into a small, rural settlement, a scene shot in Kenya but set in Sudan. (The producers took great pride in tapping local actors and workers, and they left behind an AIDS charitable trust and several public works projects. The Kenyan and British governments both aided shooting despite the fact that the movie indicts both for corruption.)

The brutal death of Quayle's wife, Tessa, an activist played by Rachel Weisz, sets the plot in motion. The kind but detached Quayle, played empathetically by Ralph Fiennes, slowly picks up the trail his wife had been following, tracking the ties between a drug company, its agents in Kenya, and the British government. Unlike Mission Impossible II, in which terrorists threaten to infect the world, or the remake of the Manchurian Candidate, in which an international drug cartel is among those seeking to install a puppet president, Meirelles makes this movie feel real. So while there's a car chase on a dusty plateau, no one plunges off the cliff to a fiery end or defies death with high-tech gadgets.

The film's case against the drug companies is a less subtle affair. Even though Meirelles said he cut out a sequence of monologues lecturing about the evils of the industry, the information still comes across as didactic and Manichean, conveyed via e-mail and grainy video clips. A couple living in Kibera pop into the movie long enough for Tessa to lecture the man about his need for an AIDS test. Later, when Tessa and a local doctor see him in line for a free test sponsored by the drug company, the doctor declares: "No drug company does something for nothing." (Meanwhile, he gives the anti-HIV drug nevirapine willy-nilly to the man's wife when the local clinic runs out, a definite no-no that builds resistance to the drug.) This is heavy enough material to sink a summer thriller, especially given its efforts to make the people and places so believable. There's no suspense in black-and-white morality.

It seems hard to reconcile the realist elements of the film with its fantastic-seeming tale of international intrigue. But real life is not so different. In 1996, drug giant Pfizer tested its antibiotic Trovan on children in Kano, Nigeria, during a meningitis outbreak there. According to The Washington Post, the company never produced any signed consent forms, and standard practices such as follow-up exams were declared optional. Sometimes dosages of antibiotics were reduced, undermining the science behind the study. Nigerian regulators signed off on the project in a backdated letter drafted as much as a year after the testing was finished.

Such studies do not require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, but the data can be used to get drugs certified at home. The FDA has accepted foreign research since 1980, but the late 1990s saw a huge boom in the practice. A six-part series in the Post in 2000 detailed how companies and governments took advantage of lax oversight or lower standards in Latin America; failed to deliver on promises of medical care in exchange for testing in China; gave placebos to patients in Thailand more often than in the United States; and offered perks and omitted mention of risks for studies in Switzerland. Point being: It's a widespread problem, and it has only continued in recent years.

In 2001, Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Discovery Labs prepared a Latin American trial of a respiratory drug for children that would have used a placebo instead of a proven treatment--a method that would not be allowed in the United States. When the activist group Public Citizen pointed out that it would lead to deaths that could be prevented, the company redesigned the study. Ongoing tests of AIDS drug tenofovir for use as a preventive medicine have raised ethical questions in at least five countries. Again, some patients at risk for contracting HIV get placebos instead of the drug, which researchers must do to study its new use. But some of the tests may fail to address the long-term costs of this approach: If patients are infected in the course of the study, will their treatment be covered? Will the testing companies provide risk reductions such as condoms or syringes? And once this cheap and available population is used for the study, will the drug be marketed only to the developed world, where companies can charge far more?

Protests recently forced suspension of tenofovir tests in Cambodia and Cameroon. But disturbingly, in 2004 the FDA proposed that internationally accepted ethics guidelines on new drug research conducted overseas be replaced with less stringent procedural requirements. A decision on that move is still pending.

Though it's difficult to convey in narrative drama, brand-name drug companies are using many other tactics that keep drugs from those in the developing world who need them. They have maneuvered new protections from generic competition into trade deals such as the recently completed Central American Free Trade Agreement. And despite pressure from activists, companies have done little to voluntarily lower prices of essential medicines in developing countries.

Meirelles hails from Brazil, a hot spot in the global fight against AIDS because it provides free antiretroviral drugs to its large number of infected people. Its threats to produce generic drugs have forced brand-name companies to lower their prices. The country's struggles, along with what Meirelles saw in Africa, were among the issues that drew him to this movie. Despite its realistic depictions, the film's difficulty in making drug company abuses compelling underscores the fact that these are very unsexy issues. But while they lack drama, it's important to remember that exploitative drug testing isn't always fiction, either.

Adam Graham-Silverman is a writer living in New York. This spring, he was a fellow with the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. 


National Coalition of Organized Women

September 10, 2005
phone: 917 804-0786
Contact: Eileen Dannemann, Director

Hollywood Shakes Up Politics & Big Pharma
The Constant Gardener Gains Grassroots Support

The National Coalition of Organized Women (NCOW) is organizing grassroots health freedom networks to promote the new Hollywood movie, "The Constant Gardener". Grassroots lobbyists are hitting the streets and the members of Congress with flyers and materials urging people and politicians to address the real life implications of issues raised in this film - namely the disastrous public health consequences that have come with Big Pharma's influence over government regulators.

The movie begins with a subtle reference to AIDS when Tessa (Rachel Weisz), a grassroots activist in Africa, discovers that a pharmaceutical company is testing unapproved, dangerous drugs on the African population - and hiding fatal adverse reactions by burying the victims. "It is interesting, how the movie begins with an inference to AIDS", commented NCOW Director Eileen Dannemann. "Most people might miss the subtle reference, which is why I point it out,"Ã' she added.

Project Bioshield passed last year giving unfettered authority to the Dept. of Defense to mandate the vaccination of military and civilians

According to Dannemann, The Constant Guardian is not fiction and accurately portrays the real-life relationship between public health policy makers and Big Pharma. "These are the people who have been empowered to medicate us at gunpoint," Dannemann stated.

Among the real life issued raised by the movie is the widespread, government-approved use of humans as test subjects for medical experimentation without their knowledge or consent.

Last year the Congress passed Project Bioshield I, giving the Dept. of Defense (DoD) and the Dept. of Human Health Services (HHS) authority to arbitrarily declare national emergencies. Bioshield gives these agencies broad authority to mandate use of untested, unlicensed and unproven biodefense vaccines on both military personnel and civilians. The DoD has already invoked this authority. Based on the "belief" that Iraq "may" expose our troops to a weaponized form of anthrax, the DoD declared an emergency (which is still in effect) and forced the untested anthrax vaccine on military personnel.

Testing unapproved drugs is happening right here in the United States

Dannemann warns that medical experimentation is not limited to military personnel. "Big Pharma is testing drugs on our children and elderly right here in the United States with experimental AIDS cocktails to foster children,"Ã' Dannemann stated. ( Another example is the introduction of Fluarix, an investigational new drug from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Though not yet licensed for use in the U.S., HHS has purchased 1.2 million doses of Fluarix, apparently for pre-approval testing among unsuspecting populations of flu shot-recipients.

An entire generation has been damaged by the childhood vaccine program

Another issue raised by The Constant Gardener is the public health disaster triggered by the nation's childhood vaccination policy. For the past 20 years the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been "recommending" the injection of our children with vaccines containing dangerous levels of mercury and other known toxins. "An entire generation of our children received 22 of these vaccines by the time they were two years old. The result is that nearly 20 percent of the children entering school today have Autism, ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity and/or depression and are being prescribed psychiatric drugs like Ritalin, Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Zyprexia, Wellbutin and Adderall," said Dannemann (

Dannemann observed that the kids such as those involved in the Columbine killings, Chris Pittman at the age of 12 (who shot his Grand parents and burned down the house) and a vast number of suicide victims were on these medications. "An estimated eight million children are on psychiatric drugs today," she said. (

Big Pharma using Teen Screen and the New Freedom Commission to directly market psychotropic drugs to students

Perhaps the most serious and pressing question begged by the revelations of The Constant Gardener is how those in government and industry are now authorized to screen all America's children for mental illness.. "TeenScreen and the New Freedom Commission in no more than a thinly veiled strategic marketing tool for the pharmaceutical industry, authorizing the use of the public school system as a marketing medium for their drugs" says, Ms. Dannemann.

During its last session, the U.S. Congress approved the presidential executive order to fund a program that would screen America's children for mental illness. This year it will survey, mis-diagnose, label, report and force school aged children into the arms of health professionals who routinely prescribe these dangerous medications.

Independent researchers point out that the majority of symptoms expressed by this generation of children is mercury poisoning. "Rather than pointing the finger at the real problem (the 20 years of injecting our children with toxic amounts of mercury), the government agency administrators mask their complicity and dumb down our children by forcing them to take dangerous and addictive psychotropic drugs. Teen Screen must be stopped by parents this year", insisted Dannemann.

Project Bioshield II, currently in the Senate, is protectionist legislation for Big Pharma

Rather than reducing Big Pharma's influence over public health policy, the U.S. Senate is currently entertaining legislation that will dramatically increase drug makers' ability to continue using hapless Americans for medical research. Senators Hatch, Lieberman and Brownback have constructed a 157-page bill (S.975) giving big Pharma congressional protection and privileges such as special patent and liability protection, anti-trust and visa exemption and special tax incentives. "Upon reviewing S.975, it becomes obvious that these three senators represent Big Pharma, not the people", Dannemann said.
Dannemann is convinced that The Constant Gardener will raise public awareness that government's public health policies are contrary to Americans' health and well-being. She is also confident that those injurious policies will change when the people collectively refuse to be the unwitting subjects of medical experimentation.

Eileen Dannemann
Director, National Coalition of Organized Women
917 804-0786

The National Coalition of Organized Women will provide FREE passes to see the movie The Constant Gardener as long asÃ'Â each pass holder will agree to make copies of the Constant Gardener flyer, "Tessa Lives" and distributeÃ'Â them to patrons as they exit the theater after seeing the movie.Ã'Â
See NCOW free ticket offer.

- - -

See also:

The Independent: The True Story of How Multinational Drug Companies Took Liberties with African Lives

Le Carre "sickened" by crimes of unbridled capitalism/drug cos.

Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND and Elissa Meininger ?September 15, 2005 on

Link forwarded by Vera Hassner Sharav of AHRP with the following introduction:
Marcia Angell's insightful and informative review of the film and John le Carre's book, The Constant Gardner, needs no additional commentary: "On the basis of the research I did for my book I believe that most of the background facts about drug company behavior in The Constant Gardener, however hard to believe, are correct."

The Constant Gardener
A review by Sam Burcher of I-SIS Institute, UK
A beautiful film that borrows from Greek tragedy but just misses the mark.

... and here is the real world story coming to light - just like out of the book:
Panel Faults Pfizer in '96 Clinical Trial In Nigeria
Unapproved Drug Tested on Children

A panel of Nigerian medical experts has concluded that Pfizer Inc. violated international law during a 1996 epidemic by testing an unapproved drug on children with brain infections at a field hospital. That finding is detailed in a lengthy Nigerian government report that has remained unreleased for five years, despite inquiries from the children's attorneys and from the media. The Washington Post recently obtained a copy of the confidential report, which is attracting congressional interest. It was provided by a source who asked to remain anonymous because of personal safety concerns.

May/June 2007: Nigeria sues drugs giant Pfizer
Nigeria has filed charges against the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, accusing it of carrying out improper trials for an anti-meningitis drug. The government is seeking $7bn in damages for the families of children who allegedly died or suffered side-effects after being given Trovan. Kano state government has filed separate charges against Pfizer. The firm denies any wrongdoing, saying the trials were conducted according to Nigerian and international law. Pfizer - the world's largest pharmaceutical company - tested the experimental antibiotic Trovan in Kano during an outbreak of meningitis which had affected thousands in 1996.


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday September 5 2005
updated on Wednesday August 15 2012

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

On the one hand the authorities tell us not to buy pharmaceuticals from the internet, instead to consult government registered medical practises.

On the other hand if you do consult a government registered medical practise your prescription is often written after a very short consultation, and you may not see the same doctor every time.

The authorities are undoubtedly correct in that modern pharmaceuticals are powerful high technology products and should be used with care and knowledge. But after five or ten minutes consideration? There may be some benefit in getting your case seen by different doctors, but they need time to read all the notes - time they don't have. Most people don't have the medical knowledge or even just the quickness of mind to present their symptoms quickly and succinctly in the short time available.

I would suspect that this hurried prescription process is often to blame for pharmaceutical disasters.

Posted by: John de Rivaz on September 6, 2005 01:26 PM


Also on the popular culture front, there is a great new song by Weezer called "We Are All On Drugs." Although it may actually be addressing the more traditionally-maligned illegal drugs, it makes a great anthem for this chemically-transfixed culture. And it is an appropriate appetizer for the next entry in this much-needed genre of popular pharmaceutical criticism. I'm just wondering when they will all build up to some kind of awakening cure!

Posted by: Visionaerie on September 6, 2005 11:46 PM


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