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Archive for the ‘Promotions’ Category

No surprise to me read to read the WSJ report Charity Brawl: Nonprofits Aren’t So Generous When a Name’s at Stake, detailing how the Susan G. Komen Foundation is aggressively going after small disease charities who use the phrase “for the cure” and/or the color pink in their fundraising efforts and programming.  The article includes details on other big box charities who engage in the same snarky practices, as  this kind of uncharitable behavior is increasingly the norm.  Here’s hoping that a dose of sunshine will not only lead to reform but  serve to wake up the public to the realities of what’s really going on with the increasingly corporatized nonprofit sector.

Hat tip to Gary Schwitzer  for his HealthNewsReview post  Who owns pink ideas or cure slogans? Welcome to the Charity Brawl.

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These news items have as yet not received much attention, but highlight health issues of concern:

Asda to sell cancer drugs at cost price

Asda is to sell cancer drugs on a not-for-profit basis while thousands of NHS patients continue to be denied medicines that are deemed too expensive.

The supermarket giant called on other pharmacists to follow its lead and lower the price of all cancer drugs that are prescribed privately, to give patients access to drugs that are not always available on the NHS.

The move could save cancer patients thousands of pounds on the cost of treatments that may extend their lives by weeks, months or years, but which have been judged to be too expensive to be routinely available for free from the health service.

The move comes as the Government restated a pledge to make more expensive treatments available to NHS patients from April next year, with a £200million fund to pay for cancer drugs………..

What is not mentioned in the article is urgent need for price controls on medicines.  If the NHS  is going to be successful in implementing the new cancer drugs fund, it’s going to need to negotiate prices with the biopharmas.  No health system public or private, nor any insurer, employer, or individual has endless resources, although the drug companies typically act like purchasers do.  And for the most part , advocacy campaigns by patient and disease groups, no matter their location, seem to focus only on demands for drugs, not that  genuinely useful drugs be made available by being affordable.  With so many patient groups receiving industry funding, this is no surprise, but it certainly is not a sustainable position for resolving the access problems.  While the conflict-of-interest issue may have often garnered more attention in the UK than in the US,  it’s a growing, worldwide phenomenon.  And even in the UK, most ordinary folks simply cannot afford to pay out of pocket for drugs with 5- and 6- figure annual costs, nor can the NHS if it is to continue to fulfill its mission.

Asda is a large UK supermarket chain, part of the Walmart group.  Earlier this year, Asda pharmacies started selling specialty prescription drugs needed for IVF treatments, which likewise were not being covered by the NHS.

Also relevant to cancer treatment is a news item from the US:

Altamonte Springs stem cell company scheduled for sale at debtors auction

A judge has ordered Cryobanks International, an Altamonte Springs company that stores stem cells in super-cold freezers, to either repay a California businessman the $3.5 million he loaned it or be sold at a courthouse auction in two weeks.

Company President John R. Edwards, M.D., would not predict Wednesday what would happen to the company or who would wind up owning it.

Of the auction, he said, “I don’t know if anything can be done to stop it.”

But he stressed that the company’s stem cells would remain safe. From 5,000 to 10,000 units are currently housed in liquid-nitrogen freezers at the company’s Altamonte Springs office…………

The type of stem cells referred to are those from the umbilical cord blood of newborns, which now can be used  in the same way as bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells, for transplantation  to replace the malfunctioning immune systems of patients with blood cancers and other diseases.  Most of the customers of Cryobanks International are private individuals who have paid to store the cord blood of their newborns as supposed “biological insurance” against many  future ills, often wooed by emotional marketing of an industry that is still unregulated in the US. Most medical groups worldwide, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend against private cord blood banking, and stress the tremendous unmet need for donation to public banking programs to serve today’s patients. Because of the small volume of blood from the umbilical cord, most such transplants are done for children.

And therein lies the public health concern about the future of Cryobanks International.   In addition to its private clients, since late 2005 the company has been a network member of  BeThe Match (formerly called the National Marrow Donor Program or NMDP) , the federal contractee which operates the US national public cord blood registry. Currently it’s possible to donate cord blood only in a handful of states, and Cryobanks International is listed as offering a unique “mail-in” option for interested expectant parents living everywhere else. Information does not seem to be readily available about the federal subcontract, nor on how many cord blood units have been collected by Cryobanks International for the NMDP. (It’s also not clear why an exact count of  stored CBUs held by Cryobanks did not seem to be available for the news story.)  CI states it has a division in India as well, with an India-specific website listing multiple sites nationwide.

This is not the first time that questions and controversy  have swirled around  Cryobanks International. In 2003, CI was identified as the supplier of cord blood to an Atlanta regenerative medicine clinic raided and shut down by the FDA. Run by an osteopath named Mitchell  Ghen, the clinic offered unapproved treatments  to desperate patients with diseases like ALS. Ghen offered expensive therapies using cord blood stem cells, but it is not clear if these were actual blood stem cell transplants.  CI cut off supplies of cord blood units (CBUs) to Ghen, who then relocated his clinic to Belize ,offering the same treatments– source of the CBUs unknown–and generating the same concerns.

Subsequently, media outlets including the New York Times reported on other business  activities involving CI.  In 2005, CI stated it was negotiating a merger with a new cord blood company named Biostem, which previously ran parking lots, provided Internet services, and operated a small mining company in Washington state. According to the Times, Biostem was being promoted to potential investors through dubious advertising pitches for so-called penny stocks. According to SEC records, the merger was abandoned in 2007.

I’ll be writing more soon about the complex field of blood and marrow transplantation and other key policy issues.  In the meantime, the public needs solid information about what’s going on with Cryobanks International and the Be the Match program.  Stay tuned as I endeavor to learn more.

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Didn’t think that fast food cures cancer?  Well think again, as now there are pink buckets for the cure.

Last week another linkage between the promotion of unhealthy food for a big box health charity made headlines and generated buzz in the blogsphere.  This time it was KFC which launched its ” Buckets for the Cure”  promotion,  a fundraiser for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The main company website now sports a hot pink background, and on the Buckets site, the Colonel is now pink, and there is an image of the  pink  serving bucket  The buckets feature photos of real life breast cancer survivors. Here’s  how the promo works :

Participating KFC franchise locations will be selling specially designed pink buckets of grilled and Original Recipe chicken. KFC has pledged 50 cents to Komen for every pink bucket ordered by its restaurant operators during the promotion period, with a minimum donation of $1 million and a goal to raise more than $8 million.

KFC Pink Bucket

Fine print at the bottom of the company website further explains that the funds to be donated to Komen come directly from the purchases of pink buckets  by KFC franchise owners,  who buy them for their stores,  between  April 5-May 9, 2010, and that “Customer purchases of KFC buckets during the promotion will not directly increase the total contribution.” The KFC  Pink Buckets website urges viewers to ” Help Make the Largest Single Donation to End Breast Cancer Forever “, and links to a Komen online donation form, which sports the pink Colonel Saunders logo. In other words, just buying a pink bucket of KFC chicken does not generate a donation to Komen, although consumers may think it does.

KFC materials do not explain exactly how the corporate donation to Komen will end breast cancer, merely  talks about need to raise awareness, and links out to the Komen site. Commentary about the promotion around the web ranges from  praise for a new way to help “the cause,” to  increasingly, critical analysis of why  promoting consumption of high fat, high sodium, high calorie food is problematic for health in  general, and for cancer prevention in particular, including breast cancer.

One of the most cogent deconstructions of what’s wrong with the campaign from both health and cause marketing viewpoints was an article by Scott Henderson entitled Cause Dissonance: KFC and Komen Buckets for the Cure, on his Rally the Cause blog. Using easy-to obtain data, Scott  explained a few facts:

Here’s what I learned from KFC.com (which currently features the Double Down wrapped in pink):

  • KFC lists its nutrition facts based on individual pieces of chicken, not the bucket.
  • Buckets come in 8, 12, and 15 pieces. You can choose between original recipe, extra crispy, spicy, or grilled. And you get wings, thighs,drumsticks, and breasts.
  • Assuming you like original recipe and buy a standard 8 piece bucket for your pink bucket, you’ll bring home 1,600 calories and 90 grams of fat. If extra crispy is more your style, say hello to 2,380 calories and 160 grams of fat.
  • If four people split the bucket, you’ll average 400 calories and 22.5 grams of fat (original recipe) or 595 calories and 40 grams of fat (extra crispy).
  • Calories from fat in the pink bucket is 49% (original recipe) and 60% (extra crispy).

Then I searched for daily nutrition guides and found this from the American Heart Association:

  • Without any sides or beverages, two pieces of chicken total 22-33% of the recommended caloric intake for women age 31-50.
  • For optimal health, total calories from fat should be 25-30% of your diet. Now compare that to the 49% and 60% that your pink bucket gives you.

As word of the pink bucket hype spreads, it’s encouraging to see that there is increasing awareness of  how inappropriate this campaign is, and that it’s not just about KFC finding a  new way to promote unhealthy food or improving its corporate image,  but that Komen is equally to blame for choosing this alliance.   Hopefully the critical reviews mean that the work of  groups like  Breast Cancer Action , one of the first to sound the alarm about  problematic pink cause marketing , is bearing fruit. BCA  has held its Think Before You Pink campaign each October ( Breast Cancer Awareness  Month)  since 2002, to educate the public about what’s really going on.  BCA is notable as one of only a handful of independent disease organizations–it accepts no industry funding– which also addresses social and environmental issues about the illness, plus offers patient  services. Visitors to the BCA website can now add their signatures to a letter  to Tell KFC and Komen to stop the pinkwashing!

This pinkwashing is especially egregious because KFC, like most fast food chains, is overwhelmingly present in communities that have poor health outcomes.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure knows that social inequities affect breast cancer mortality rates. Given this disconnect, we are especially disturbed by this partnership. It’s preposterous, and we have to tell them to stop.

Hat tip  for alerting me to this  new campaign goes to fellow Seattleite Jeanne Sather,  The Assertive Cancer Patient,  who  has been writing about the pink promotions for some time, and has held  “How LOW Will Komen Go” contests  for the past  3 years on her blog. Readers submitted entries with illustrating the most offensive pink products being hyped each October.  You can read the mind-boggling entries, many complete with photos,  for 2007, 2008, and 2009 plus extensive reader commentary.   While not all the products now on the market are tied to Komen campaigns, the organization is now synonymous with pink ribbon cause marketing, which itself has a controversial history.

And why my mention of emesis basins?  As a cancer survivor, the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about the pink buckets, was the image of those hospital puke pans ( taking a little liberty on the shape) which I’d used so often. And their large-sized cousins, the wash basins often needed for their greater volume, are frequently pink.  The pink buckets promotion made me feel sick to my stomach.

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