Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pfizer's Slumdog Sales Rep

"Julio Rodriguez was on a sales call at a clinic in this slum overlooking Caracas recently when he heard four gunshots go off nearby," is how the Wall Street Journal begins its story of Big Pharma's newest "strategy" to "target the working poor in the developing world" (see "Drug Firms See Poorer Nations as Sales Cure").

Shown in the photo on the left is Mr. Rodriguez -- a Pfizer sales representative in Venezuela -- walking through one of Latin America's most dangerous neighborhoods.

Looks a bit like Washington Heights in NYC where I used to live while attending graduate school (see here)!

"To avoid attracting attention, he wears a polo shirt with a red logo, the color worn by supporters of President Hugo Chávez."

Yeah, he "blends" with that shirt!

On the right are some other people in that neighborhood. None of them seems to be wearing a red logo on their polo shirts. Wait! None of them even have a polo shirt!

I don't know if Pfizer has any sales reps in Washington Heights dodging bullets to bring Lipitor to the "working poor" of THAT neighborhood. If there are any, I suppose they are wearing Obama logos on their polo shirts!

Why is Pfizer "targeting" working poor in "developing" nations -- as opposed to the working poor of this nation?

"For the first time in a half-century, sales of prescription drugs are forecast to decline this year in the U.S., historically the industry's biggest and most profitable market...As a result, developing countries like Venezuela have begun to look more attractive to the industry. Sales of prescription drugs in emerging markets reached $152.7 billion in 2008, up from $67.2 billion in 2003, according to IMS Health, which tracks the industry. IMS forecasts sales will climb to $265 billion by 2013."

Pfizer is offering some pretty choice deals in these countries. For one thing, it gives away computers to doctors and pays for their Internet access. Of course, the docs have to sign a waiver stating they understand they're not intended to influence their prescribing.

Sure, sure.

Dr. Serrano is one of the docs receiving the kickback... er, I mean free gift with no strings attached. He says the 40% increase in the number of Pfizer drugs he prescribes since Mr. Rodriguez started calling on him in late 2007 was not due to the free gifts. "There are some illnesses that have to be treated with a good product, no matter what the cost," Dr. Serrano says.

Sure, sure.

Not all Venezuelans are as gullible (maybe corrupt is a better term) as Dr. Serrano. Luis Osuna, a member of the working poor class, "was happy when the pharmacist gave him a generic version of Pfizer's Zithromax that cost $12. 'I don't think there was too much of a difference,'" he says.

Not until the Obama administration and Congress pass legislation overhauling the health-care system, including provisions that could lower the cost of medicine, would we see Big Pharma lowering prices in support of the working poor in the good, ole USA!


  1. Anonymous5:22 AM

    impressive article. Points the direction of pharma in the coming time. Theres nothing wrong in such a step. Everybody wants a piece of cake, even if its a little dusty.

  2. Dusty? You mean bullet-ridden!

  3. Sometime back when I worked in a backward district of Karnataka - Kolar, an elderly doctor narrated an interesting facet of his life:When he started his practice, there were very few doctors. Scores of patients would be waiting when he arrived at his clinic. As years passed by, more doctors started practicing, and two important events took place: one, ciprofloxacin was introduced, and two, packaged drinking water became available. Besides this at a general level, hygiene and education improved, along with it started a dip in his practice.

    The moral is that slumdog places have the best pharma opportunities!

    In nonslumdog areas, there are discerning customers (or patients). The dynamics of pharma biz in such areas are very different.

  4. Anonymous9:35 AM

    Free Computers, not since Hank have we seen that. What fine marketing!

  5. Geez! And in this country we can't even get a free pen anymore.

  6. Anonymous8:36 AM

    You can not compare the "poor" in other developing countries with the "POOR" in the united states. Some facts:
    Various government reports contain the following facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau:
    •Nearly 40 percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. On average, this is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
    •Eighty-four percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
    •Nearly two-thirds of the poor have cable or satellite TV.
    •Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded; two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
    •The typical poor American has as much or more living space than the average individual living in most European countries. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
    •Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
    •Ninety-eight percent of poor households have a color television; two-thirds own two or more color televisions.
    •Eighty-two percent own microwave ovens; 67 percent have a DVD player; 73 percent have a VCR; 47 percent have a computer.
    •The average intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals by poor children is indistinguishable from that of children in the upper middle class. Poor boys today at ages 18 and 19 are actually taller and heavier than middle-class boys of similar age were in the late 1950s. They are a full inch taller and ten pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

  7. Anonymous, you r a major buzzkill! Who'd have thought the poor had it so good here!

    But you overwhelm us with irrelevant statistics. This guy's turf is in Caracas, no? From the looks of it, that's an urban neighborhood where he's at scurrying away from banditos. Let's get the stats of people who live in poor urban areas of the US. Forget about those 3-bedroom trailer homes in the suburbs with the half bath outside!


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