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'The pharmaceutical industry does not want people to be healthy”

'The pharmaceutical industry does not want people to be healthy”

Required reading

Who: Geertjan Wesseling, professor of Pulmonology

Book: Whistle Blower by Tess Gerritsen

Target: students of Medicine, Health Sciences and Biomedical Sciences

Some medical thrillers make him cringe. From a medical point of view, they are unsound. But not the ones written by Tess Gerritsen, an American internist who eventually decided to be a writer. In Whistle Blower a doctor analyses a murder using forensic evidence. “Fantastic, everything that is medical is correct,” says professor Geertjan Wesseling. The book is about a doctor who discovers that a virus for biological warfare is being developed in a biolab. He tries to thwart the attempt, but then it appears that the factory has high-level connections in politics. “It is a real page-turner, as are all her books. It is about machinations, about the things that happen behind the scenes. The characters are life-like. Whistle Blower is an entertaining book, for on one’s bedside table.”

Wesseling has a completely different book in mind for on the desk in the study. No, not fiction, so just for once in this column: a non-fiction book, entitled ‘The Truth About the Drug Companies’ by Marcia Angell, from 2004. “Every student should read this. It shows how the pharmaceutical industry misguides us – doctors, patients and politicians. They go to great lengths to sell their products: they conceal side effects, refuse to publish negative studies, manipulate statistics, bribe doctors and politicians, make up disorders because they have discovered a medicine by accident (like the premenstrual syndrome, which used to be an indication that you were getting your period, now it's a disorder), and stretch guidelines. Something that was healthy twenty years ago, is no longer so. The pharmaceutical industry does not want people to be healthy.”

The writer Marcia Angell is a doctor, who was Editor-in-Chief of the well-known New England Journal of Medicine for two decades. “It reads like a thriller, it would be great if it were fiction,” Wesseling sighs. “As a result of this book, the industry has had to account for its actions. GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) had infringed on a number of regulations in their marketing and the scientific research, and settled for three billion dollars. We have a similar book in the Netherlands: Slikken: hoe ziek is de farmaceutische industrie? by journalist Joop Bouma. I would really like to know to what extent the pharmaceutical industry influences us today. They will probably say that such things happened in the past, but bribing and manipulating are still going on.”

This column contains the recommendations made by lecturers of novels that shed a different light on their discipline than study books do

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