Politifact editors corrected two errors Friday in their recent post attacking The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Sept. 19 report on the Clinton Foundation distributing “watered down” HIV/AIDS drugs to millions of people in Africa, but refused to correct seven other errors.
The exchange began when TheDCNF reported that “former President Bill Clinton and his Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) distributed ‘watered-down’ HIV/AIDs drugs to patients in sub-Saharan Africa, and ‘likely increased’ the risks of morbidity and mortality.”
TheDCNF report was based on a 78-page congressional study initiated by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who is vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The report will be shared with the inspectors general at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of State.
Four days later, Politifact published a critique of TheDCNF post that claimed it “wrongly ties the Clinton Foundation to bad HIV/AIDS drugs.” Written by former NPR reporter Jon Greenberg, the Politifact critique pointed to multiple alleged factual errors in TheDCNF report and vigorously defended the Clinton Foundation.
Greenberg lauded the Clinton Foundation’s CHAI for becoming “a key player in the worldwide supply chain of the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs used to fight HIV/AIDS,” thus helping drive down the costs of drugs used by an estimated 11 million people. The same claim is made repeatedly by Clinton Foundation officials and advocates. CHAI became a separate tax entity from the foundation in 2010.
The most significant of the two errors admitted by Politifact concerned its failure to note that in 2004 the World Health Organization (WHO) and South African authorities withdrew approval of Ranbaxy’s HIV/AIDS drugs. In its correction, Politifact pointed to the WHO’s restoration of seven Ranbaxy HIV/AIDs drugs in 2005 but said nothing about three others remaining among those withdrawn in 2004.
These facts are critical in assessing the Clinton Foundation’s role in combatting HIV/AIDS in Africa because the epidemic was raging in 2004 and 2005, just when Ranbaxy’s problems were becoming prominent. Politifact appears to be seeking to understate the significance of these regulatory events in the context of the Clinton Foundation’s claims about its success.
Politifact’s editors refused to correct the other seven errors because they judged TheDCNF’s analysis on them to be “without merit, as they failed to distinguish between Ranbaxy’s HIV/AIDS drugs and its other products.”
But the first of the seven concerned only the veracity of Politifact’s claim that the Clinton Foundation’s “model has worked. The price of HIV/AIDS treatment plunged and low-cost Indian drug makers remain an essential part of the equation.”
In fact, as TheDCNF pointed out to Politifact, data published by Medecins Sans Frontiere shows the price of HIV/AIDS drugs sold in June 2000 by original manufacturers was $10,439 per person per year and $2,767 for generics like those from Ranbaxy.
By September 2001, the originators’ price had plunged to $549 and the generics to $132. The Clinton Foundation’s CHAI wasn’t founded until 2002, a year after the prices plunged. The price plunge thus was not a result of CHAI efforts, as claimed by the Clinton Foundation and Politifact.
The other six errors Politifact refused to correct included:
POLITIFACT CLAIM: “The FDA’s main complaint was that the company had falsified test results on the stability (think shelf life) of a handful of drugs, none of which, however, were aimed at treating HIV/AIDS.”
FACT: By conveniently not mentioning the WHO removal in 2004 and South Africa’s recall of ARVs, Greenberg suggests there are no quality concerns about Ranbaxy’s ARVs. The FDA’s complaint was about widespread quality control/production issues that affect all drugs manufactured at these two facilities. Concerns about basic manufacturing processes at these two facilities is precisely why the FDA blocked the importation of 30 drugs (including ARVs) at these two facilities.
POLITIFACT CLAIM: “In 2010, the Justice Department filed charges, but again, none of the counts involved HIV/AIDS drugs.”
FACT: The charges, according to the linked document, were actually filed in 2013. There was a draft of the Consent Decree sent to Ranbaxy in 2010. The civil action related to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) purchase of HIV/AIDs drugs for Africa.
POLITIFACT CLAIM: “The FDA said in its original 2008 press release ‘FDA has no evidence to date that Ranbaxy has shipped defective products.’ FDA spokeswoman Lyndsay Meyer told PolitiFact that applied to HIV/AIDS drugs.”
FACT: That might have been FDA’s understanding in 2008 but in the 2013 Consent Decree, Ranbaxy admitted to shipping defective products.
POLITIFACT CLAIM: “So to recap: the Clinton Foundation was using HIV/AIDS drugs from a Indian company that was part of a U.S. government investigation. The company eventually admitted that it had falsified records for several drugs and paid a $500 million fine, but none of the drugs included in that group were HIV/AIDS medications.”
FACT: Again, the author fails to look at the civil Consent Decree that the Department of Justice and Ranbaxy signed, which included far more than falsifying records and included issues related to ARVs (via PEPFAR’s inclusion).
POLITIFACT CLAIM: “Put simply, throughout all of Ranbaxy’s troubles, no regulator has found its HIV/AIDS drugs defective or issued a recall of its products.”
FACT: As previously stated, South Africa recalled Ranbaxy ARVs in 2004. It says, “However, in 2004, Ranbaxy was ordered by the MCC to recall its AIDS drugs from the South African market over concerns they could be life-threatening.”
POLITIFACT CLAIM: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said there was no evidence the drugs themselves were substandard. The World Health Organization, South Africa’s Medicines Control Council and the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency tested the Ranbaxy drugs and found them to be safe. Such testing dates back to at least 2005.”
FACT: Ranbaxy admitted in its civil settlement with the DOJ that it had done precisely that — shipped “drugs whose strength, purity or quality differed from the drugs specifications.”
It should also be noted that Politifact’s Greenberg described TheDCNF report as a “misreading” of the congressional study. But that’s not what Blackburn, who initiated the study, concluded.
“While our report states that ‘the Clinton Foundation likely facilitated the distribution of watered down HIV/AIDS medications in sub-Saharan Africa through its health access initiative,’ I believe The Daily Caller News Foundation drew a very appropriate conclusion upon reviewing the findings,” Blackburn said.
TheDCNF also asked Dinesh Thakur, a former Ranbaxy insider and FDA whistleblower, his assessment of Blackburn’s report.
“It was thoroughly done. And I think Mr. Flint has substantiated everything he has said with enough documents he has referenced. Everything he has said has been substantiated,” Thakur told TheDCNF.
Thakur received $48 million under the False Claims Act as part of Ranbaxy’s $500 million fine. The False Claims Act rewards corporate and government whistleblowers who expose wrong-doing. He is now a public health advocate in India.
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