Novartis Prefers to Profit off Pandemic?

While the Obama administration's getting serious about healthcare reform, it's time for a rather pointed reading comprehension test.

Consider the following story and find, if you can, the obvious problem:

The Swiss drug company Novartis will not give free vaccines against H1N1 flu to poor countries -- it will only consider discounts.

Novartis's refusal comes in the wake of a request from the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, who has called for drug companies to show solidarity with poor countries as they develop vaccines against the H1NI or "swine flu" pandemic.

Just by way of reminder, H1N1 has infected around 30,000 people globally, mostly in North America, though there have been a few deaths outside Mexico and the United States. Europe suffered its first death on Sunday. The first has just been reported in Argentina.

Help the poor prevent a pandemic? Novartis said 'No'. That's Novartis --makers of Exedrin and Bufferin -- I guess they haven't made enough off those over-the-counter best-sellers.

"If you want to make production sustainable, you have to create financial incentives," explained Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella.

By "financial incentives" he means the 'p' word: profits.

Spot the flaw in the profit-driven approach to health care? Anyone?

Financial incentives?

When a pandemic isn't incentive enough -- I'd say we have another 'p' word -- a problem.

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