By Esther Vivas (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Sant Benet, a doctor, a theologian and a doctor in public health and medicine. She is studying and working at Humboldt University in Berlin and is the author of La Trinitat, avui (PAMSA, 2005), Els crims de les grans companyies farmacèutiques (Cristianisme i Justícia, 2006), La Teología feminista en la historia (Fragmenta, 2007) and the video Campanas por la Gripe A.
Esther Vivas - Your video 'Campanas por la Gripe A' has had a great response. What were your objectives in making it?
Teresa Forcades: As I have explained again, making the video was not my idea. It was coincidental. When we taped it with Judit Abadias and Alícia Ninou we did not think it would have this impact, but I did think Ihad something to explain and it was worthwhile since it would have an impact. What I explain in the video is the result of two months of research on the subject, which I started to do because some people had asked me what I thought and which I summarized in a four-page document.
EV - How do you analyze the policies of the European Union governments on influenza A?
TF - We are in a context where decisions are made at levels ever more removed from the citizenry. With the Lisbon Treaty that will happen even more. It is a process that is happening faster than our awareness of it. In the case of influenza A, there have been some strange agreements and a lack of debate in the political arena, which only broke down a little when the Polish minister came out challenging these policies.
In countries like Germany or the United States there has been more debate however, and publications like The Atlantic or Der Spiegel have published critical research articles and representatives have also issued critical opinions. In Catalonia and Spain that has not happened. The only one who spoke with his own voice from the beginning was the president of the Spanish College of Doctors, though we would certainly not agree on many things. The Bioethics Committee of Catalonia delayed publishing a document a long time and finally published a very watered-down text, and it seems that its main purpose is not to interfere in government campaigns.
EV - Is the design of health policies driven by the interests of the pharmaceutical industry?
TF - The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most powerful. In the ranking of companies that move the most capital, we find several drug companies. They have many mechanisms to influence policy. For example, by lobbying practices and pressure, either through the positive path of persuading politicians, or through blackmail which can be done at many levels.
A report by the House of Commons of the British Parliament, which studied the influence of drug companies for two years, concluded that this was improper and was being carried out through direct and indirect promotions, gifts to doctors, advertising of drugs, etc. An important issue is who finances medical journals. One of the recommendations of this report was to promote transparency, that what a given doctor receives from a firm be made public. Now, this policy of transparency does not exist.
EV - What is the impact of privatization of health and education in this dynamic?
TF - The process of privatization of education and health has progressed. At the Clinic, where I studied, each department is responsible for its own funding and, at the economic level, the criterion of productivity and effectiveness comes first. This reality, since the Bologna Process, made a leap and infiltrated the medical school. Agreements between businesses and educational institutions subordinate lines of research to economic interest.
There is an attempt to discredit public health and public funding of research. Until now it was clear that health or education could not be comodified. Now, on the other hand, there is an effort to make it seem normal to us. However there is still great resistance and it is crucial that this resistance continue to increase.
EV - Faced with this situation, what can we do?
TF - The first step is becoming aware. You have to disclose the information. Public information is lacking. Promoting transparency is the first task that I see. You act differently when you know that the European Medicines Agency, in three parts, is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The group of influenza experts, which initially presented itself as independent, is entirely funded by drug companies.
At a basic strategic level it is very important to spread the idea that we are not facing something that is as well established and locked in as it seems, that controls everything and that there is no possibility of response. It absolutely has feet of clay. This is my perception. The fragility of the system is very large, it is based on ignorance, not moral, but a lack of information. You will swallow one thing when in fact the opposite is true. We must avoid the argument that everything is bad and resign ourselves. That is a paralyzing argument.
Sometimes it seems like we think that it is normal for everything to go well in life and that when something goes wrong, then, that is when we must fight. The reality, however, is that life is a struggle. You've got to win your freedom every day. Saint Benedict says that every day is like Lent. You go out to fight every day. The norm is not that everything goes well, it is normal that I have to earn my space of freedom every day. This is a distance race, a long-term struggle.