Hero journalist Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:
During his visit to Murmansk on Saturday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demonstrated his concern for the people by “spontaneously” popping into a pharmacy unannounced to see if Arbidol flu medicine was available and at what price.
Putin’s Arbidol visit was broadcast throughout the day and evening on national television news programs, which will surely boost the product’s sales more than the best advertising campaign could ever do.
Arbidol is made by Pharmstandard, with headquarters in the Moscow region. Why did Putin act as an advertising agency for the company, going out of his way in Murmansk to mention Arbidol by name?
Here is a short chronology of events behind Arbidol’s miraculous success:
On March 16, 2007, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences demanded that Arbidol be removed from the list of drugs that are purchased by the government in large quantities based on its conclusion that it is “an obsolete drug with unproven effectiveness.”
On Sept. 24, 2007, Tatyana Golikova was appointed health and social development minister.
In 2008, Arbidol became the best-selling medicine in the country, with sales of 2.4 billion rubles ($82 million), representing 1.3 percent of Russia’s pharmaceuticals market.
In 2009, Russian television and the government helped fuel an unprecedented panic over the risk of contracting swine flu. This turned into a real bonanza for Arbidol. Even Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Consumer Protection Service, joined in the efforts, recommending on national television that Russians take Arbidol as a defense against swine flu.
As a result, Arbidol sales soared by 102 percent, earning the manufacturer 5.5 billion rubles ($188 million) in 2009. The government bought up Arbidol for its federal stockpile of drugs without taking any competitive bids from other drug makers. The Emergency Situations Ministry sent a chartered flight to Kiev with 200,000 packages of Arbidol at a cost of 22 million rubles ($756,000) to Russian taxpayers.
At the same time, no genuine clinical trials of Arbidol have been conducted. MEDLINE, the database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, contains four publications citing three separate randomized clinical trials of Arbidol, all of which were conducted on small groups that provided inconclusive evidence.
Rumors have been circulating in the media in recent months that Vladimir Khristenko — the son of Golikova and Viktor Khristenko, who is industry and energy minister — might take over as chief of Pharmstandard.
The U.S. Congress recently approved President Barack Obama’s huge packet of health care reforms. I seriously doubt that these reforms call for federal funds to stockpile medicines produced by a company run by a close relative of the surgeon general. It seems equally impossible that Obama would pay a visit to pharmacy to conduct a personal ad campaign for his favorite drug. If he did, he would be certainly impeached.
French kings were able to cure scrofula with a single touch of their hands. Had they conducted randomized clinical trials at the time, the kings’ hands would have proven just as successful at curing scrofula as Putin’s Arbidol has been in curing the flu.