“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” –Sun Tzu
I am blessed to have four of the brightest, cutest, most fun-loving nieces God had the mercy to bestow upon me. But one – I’ll call her Joanie – holds a particularly special spot in my life. Joanie was born with a genetic defect that affects her heart. My brother and his wife knew before her birth she had a very serious heart defect. She had a faulty valve and a hole in her heart’s wall that required surgery immediately following birth.
After being in Neonatal Intensive Care for the first months of her life, she came home and slowly grew — as did her heart. She underwent two more open-heart surgeries to ‘upgrade’ the artificial valve as she outgrew it. Each time she bounced back like only a capital ‘T’ troublemaking, rambunctious child could. She proves the adage that boisterous, unruly kids are payback to their parents for their own childhood bad behavior (of which I know my brother is guilty).
I bring up Joanie because I saw the anguish and fear in her parents’ faces as she underwent yet another surgery, another trip to the hospital, and again this past week when she went to the emergency room due to coughing up blood during a bout of pneumonia. As scary as it is for this small child to undergo these serious procedures, it brings into focus how fortunate we are to have advanced medicine and talented, knowledgeable doctors to save the life of this child who, only decades earlier, would not have survived infancy. But what if the life-saving drugs and vaccines we rely on were compromised – or worse – disappeared at the hands of a malicious foreign power?
Over the last few decades, America’s foreign policy has dealt with many grave threats: Cold War Russia and the Communists, radical regimes in the Middle East, terrorists in Africa and South America, Russia (again). But the nagging threat that lurks menacingly like a Cheshire cat is China. The Communist regime made bold headlines recently for its brutal suppression of pro-Hong Kong demonstrators and the leaking of documents detailing the horrors of underground prisons and “reeducation camps” for minority groups, and is even suspected of harvesting organs.
China’s military is seeking control over the South China Sea through development of thousands of acres of reclaimed islands. Chinese nationals have been caught and convicted of stealing intellectual property and, on January 6, two Chinese national students studying at the University of Michigan appeared in the US District Court of Southern Florida for entering Sigsbee Annex Naval Air Station in Key West to photograph defense installations.
Between trade wars and diplomacy skirmishes are the things the Cheshire cat hides behind his smile. It’s millions of Americans being held hostage by the thousands of life-saving drugs made in China. With the rise of globalization, drugs such as the anticoagulants my niece relies on for her heart surgeries, antibiotics, antidepressants, cancer drugs, blood-pressure medication, even birth-control pills have essential ingredients made in China and sold in the United States.
A new report from the US-China Economic Security Review Commission stated that China’s pharmaceutical industry is “not effectively regulated by the Chinese government,” putting the American public at risk of exposure to contaminated and dangerous medicines. This nightmare became reality as documented by Rosemary Gibson in her book China Rx, a clear-eyed but terrifying look at pharmaceutical manufacturing in China.
A contaminated batch of heparin made its way from unregulated factories in China to hospitals all over the country including children’s hospitals like the one where Joanie was treated. Reports poured in of life-threatening drug reactions. Due to quick actions of the CDC and FDA, the toxic batch of heparin was identified, but not before hundreds of injuries and four deaths.
Gibson recounts the episode:
Heparin, a blood thinner, is used in kidney dialysis, surgery, and critical care to prevent blood clots that can trigger a heart attack or stroke. Twelve million seriously ill people need it every year, and [Illinois-based Baxter Healthcare Corporation] controlled about 50 percent of the market. “We wondered what we were going to do if all of it was recalled,” Dr. Edward (infectious disease specialist at Children’s St. Louis) said. “We looked at each other, and the blood drained out of our faces.”
We have a grave situation in which a nation who is at best a cunning foe in the fight for supremacy in our age of globalization and, at worst, a maleficent enemy actively undermining the United States and our allies in a quest for global domination. When such a force floods the market with medicine we need to survive, shouldn’t we be concerned with the quality of that medicine? Shouldn’t we demand to know where the active ingredients in our drugs are manufactured and by what standards? Shouldn’t we have the means to ensure we don’t rely solely on a nation that means to do us harm to provide vaccines to citizens and our military men and women? We talk a lot about energy independence, what about pharmaceutical independence? It would be nice if my husband could rest assured the infusion he needs every eight weeks at the VA to treat his Crohn’s Disease was both available and safe.
I know being manufactured in America doesn’t guarantee safety, but I would like to be informed about the origins of the drug, perhaps on a label. The FDA finds room for every warning that can fit in a lawyer’s pocket, surely they can fit “Manufactured in ____.” A few years ago, there was a massive recall of tainted pet food that was manufactured in China and sold in the United States by American companies. Hundreds of pets died from the food. I work at a small pet store (not my ideal, but if I was smart and talented enough, I’d be writing every day instead) and still get questions about where food, treats, and toys are made. “Not China” is the desired answer — and for good reason.
If we are this concerned about our pets’ well-being, shouldn’t we also be about the health of our parents, spouses, and children? We demand to know where dog food is made and if it will be available when we need it. We should be more so about the drugs and medicines that keep our families alive, especially when the supply we rely on comes from a country whose actions signal hostile intent.Published in