Selling Sickness 2013

disease-mongering meets the meningitis scandal

The meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated medicine from a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy has become a full-fledged health scandal with its inevitable elements: avoidable deaths, journalistic outrage, competing investigations, finger-pointing, newly discovered conflicts of interest/incompetence/corruption, resignations, arrests, fines, congressional hearings, and, presumably, new regulatory solutions. Get up to speed by reading all the details and following the links offered by Ed Silverman on Pharmalot.

It’s a classic moment for disease-mongering activists, and an opportunity to consult one of my favorite books, the inspiring 1990 autobiography of long-time radical community, union, and civil-rights organizer, Myles Horton, The Long Haul. The title came from Horton’s realization in the 1930s that change has to be built step by step (P81). He differentiates organizational times, which are most of the time, when people study, recruit, and brainstorm from social movement times, when events move fast and creatively and the public becomes active. “During organizational times you try to anticipate a social movement….you do things in advance to prepare the groundwork for a larger movement.” (P84) “You don’t just tell people something, you find a way to use situations…so that they can learn to figure things out themselves.” (P 122)

Health scandals (too many to list – make your own timeline) offer  regular opportunities to illuminate the state of health costs, consumer protection, patient rights, research transparency, industry and hospital regulations, licensing, professional conduct, oversight… all the complexities of contemporary health care that must be coordinated in the public interest. The more active the citizenry, the likelier mistakes and corruption will be caught before real damage is done. Each scandal offers opportunities for fresh solutions and movement organization.

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