The Tamiflu / Rumsfeld Connection
Forwarded email asserts a conspiratorial connection between the worldwide alarm over a possible flu pandemic and Donald Rumsfeld's financial interest in the company that patented the antiviral drug Tamiflu.
Description: Email rumor
Circulating since: April 2006
Status: Partly true
Email example contributed by Jennie R., April 28, 2006:
Subject: BIRD FLU - US PROPAGANDA!
Do you know that 'bird flu' was discovered in Vietnam 9 years ago?
Do you know that barely 100 people have died in the whole world in all that time?
Do you know that it was the Americans who alerted us to the efficacy of the human antiviral TAMIFLU as a preventative.
Do you know that TAMIFLU barely alleviates some symptoms of the common flu?
Do you know that its efficacy against the common flu is questioned by a great part of the scientific community?
Do you know that against a SUPPOSED mutant virus such as H5N1, TAMIFLU barely alleviates the illness?
Do you know that to date Avian Flu affects birds only?
Do you know who markets TAMIFLU?
Do you know who bought the patent for TAMIFLU from ROCHE LABORATORIES in 1996?
GILEAD SCIENCES INC.
Do you know who was the then president of GILEAD SCIENCES INC. and remains a major shareholder?
DONALD RUMSFELD, the present Secretary of Defence of the USA.
Do you know that the base of TAMIFLU is crushed aniseed?
Do you know who controls 90% of the world's production of this tree?
Do you know that sales of TAMIFLU were over $254 million in 2004 and more than $1000 million in 2005?
Do you know how many more millions ROCHE can earn in the coming months if the business of fear continues?
So the summary of the story is as follows:
Bush's friends decide that the medicine TAMIFLU is the solution for a pandemic that has not yet occurred and that has caused a hundred deaths worldwide in 9 years.
This medicine doesn't so much as cure the common flu.
In normal conditions the virus does not affect humans.
Rumsfeld sells the patent for TAMIFLU to ROCHE for which they pay him a fortune. Roche acquires 90% of the global production of crushed aniseed, the base for the antivirus.
The governments of the entire world threaten a pandemic and then buy industrial quantities of the product from Roche.
So we end up paying for medicine while Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush get richer, thank the RED STATES!
Comments: Is U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally profiting from fears that a worldwide bird flu pandemic may occur? Yes. Rumsfeld once served as chairman of Gilead Sciences, Inc., the company that holds the patent on the antiviral drug Tamiflu, currently regarded as the world's best hope for the prevention and treatment of avian influenza. He still owns Gilead stock valued at between $5 million and $25 million.
Is it true that no one really knows whether avian influenza will mutate and take hold in the human population, let alone reach pandemic proportions? Yes. For now, the disease remains mostly confined to the bird population, and the number of cases of bird-to-human transmission remains relatively small.
Bird flu threat overestimated?
Granted, there are well-informed skeptics in the scientific community who argue that public health officials have overestimated the threat of a pandemic - and the skeptics could be right - but the "better safe than sorry" approach is too widespread to be discounted as an aberration of the Bush administration. The World Health Organization, the health ministries of China, Japan and other Asian countries, and the health commissioner of the European Union have all called for bird flu preparedness plans that include the stockpiling of Tamiflu.
Sorting fact from error
The forwarded text advancing these claims was paraphrased from an editorial that appeared in the April 2006 issue of the Spanish health magazine Discovery DSalud. Albeit in much briefer form, the email captures the spirit and message of the orginal column. There are factual errors, however, some of which can be found in the original, some of which may be due to mistranslation, and some of which probably crept into the text during transmission:
- CLAIM: Bird flu was discovered in Vietnam nine years ago.
NOT EXACTLY. Avian flu strain H5N1 was first isolated in human beings nine years ago - in Hong Kong, not Vietnam. The first reported cases in Vietnam occurred in 2003.
- CLAIM: Barely 100 people have died in the whole world in all that time.
TRUE. As of this writing, the official human death toll from bird flu since 2003 is 115. Counting the six who died in Hong Kong in 1997, the nine-year total is 121.
- CLAIM: "...it was the Americans who alerted us to the efficacy of the human antiviral Tamiflu as a preventative."
PROBABLY TRUE. The Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced as early as 2004 that the antiviral drug oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu), already proven successful in the prevention and treatment of the common flu, was likely to prove similarly effective against the avian influenza virus.
- CLAIM: Tamiflu barely alleviates some symptoms of the common flu.
MISLEADING. Antiviral medications like Tamiflu attack the flu virus itself, not specific symptoms. Even so, Tamiflu has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the severity of common flu symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness by an average of 37 percent, and reduce the number of complications in otherwise healthy individuals.
- CLAIM: Tamiflu's efficacy against the common flu is questioned by a great part of the scientific community.
FALSE. A search of the available medical literature on Tamiflu yielded no evidence of significant controversy regarding its efficacy against the common flu.
- CLAIM: "...against a SUPPOSED mutant virus such as H5N1, Tamiflu barely alleviates the illness."
UNSUBSTANTIATED. While the efficacy of Tamiflu against H5N1, the most pathogenic strain of bird flu, has yet to be assessed in clinical trials, its effectiveness has been sufficiently verified in animal and in vitro studies to earn the recommendation of the World Health Organization for the treatment and prevention of H5N1.
- CLAIM: To date, avian flu affects birds only.
FALSE. Not to mention self-contradictory and nonsensical. As confirmed above, over 100 human beings worldwide have died of avian flu in the past three years. Clearly it doesn't affect birds only.
- CLAIM: "Do you know who markets Tamiflu? ROCHE LABORATORIES."
TRUE. Roche is a pharmaceutical manufacturer based in Switzerland.
- CLAIM: "Do you know who bought the patent for Tamiflu from ROCHE LABORATORIES in 1996? GILEAD SCIENCES INC."
GARBLED. Gilead Sciences, Inc. discovered Tamiflu in the early 1990s and still holds the patent. Gilead licensed development and marketing rights to Roche in 1996.
- CLAIM: "Do you know who was the then president of GILEAD SCIENCES INC. and remains a major shareholder? DONALD RUMSFELD, the present Secretary of Defence of the USA."
TRUE. According to Fortune magazine, Rumsfeld was Gilead's chairman from 1997 to 2001. It's unknown exactly how many shares he still owns in the company, but the value of his holdings is estimated at between $5 million and $25 million.
- CLAIM: the "base" of Tamiflu is crushed aniseed.
TRUE. One of the basic ingredients of Tamiflu is shikimic acid, the main source of which is currently star anise, a spice grown in China. However, there are other methods of making shikimic acid, and Roche is already looking at ways to reduce its dependence on the star anise supply.
- CLAIM: "Do you know who controls 90% of the world's production of this tree? ROCHE."
FALSE. According to a November 2005 report in the Washington Post, only about half of China's entire stock of star anise goes to pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Roche.
- CLAIM: Sales of Tamiflu were over $254 million in 2004 and more than $1 billion in 2005?
ROUGHLY ACCURATE. According to Forbes magazine, Tamiflu sales totalled $258 million in 2004 and were projected to exceed $1 billion in 2005.
Sources and further reading:
Avian Influenza FAQs
World Health Organization, 5 December 2005
FDA Approves Oral Tamiflu to Treat Common Flu
Doctor's Guide, 28 October 1999
Tamiflu Works Against Deadly Bird Flu
Reuters, 20 January 2006
Advice on Use of Tamiflu
(PDF file) World Health Organization, 17 March 2006
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld See Growth in Gilead Stake
Fortune, 31 October 2005
Tamiflu, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Business of Fear
Editorial in Discovery DSalud, April 2006 (in Spanish)
Bird Flu Fears Spur Sales of Star Anise Spice
National Geographic, 28 November 2005
Star Rises in Fight Against Bird Flu
Washington Post, 18 November 2005
Skeptics Warn Bird Flu Fears Are Overblown
MSNBC.com, 20 April 2006
Last updated: 05/11/06