Before this pandemic I had been thinking about a virtual bar, and about the characteristics of a great barkeep. There is just something about the making and the receiving of a handcrafted drink. The right experience can be had in an international airport, a pub in the basement of a quiet neighborhood, a chandeliered icon of a lounge, or a porch in the mountains at the end of a lonnnng dirt road. Hospitality and aesthetics. A good barkeep is slow to judge, quick to observe. A good barkeep also has a radar for danger, and will not let things get out of hand.
What does a bar have to do with essential medicine access?
Well, things have gotten out of hand. When describing American health care costs per capita to other nations in a recent review of the new book by by Ezekiel J. Emanuel in The New York Review of Books David Oshinsky puts it well: “For head-spinning price disparities, however, nothing compares to pharmaceuticals. Americans account for almost half the $1 trillion spent annually for prescription drugs worldwide, while comprising less than 5 percent of the world’s population. It is probably no coincidence that the pharmaceutical industry spent almost twice as much on political lobbying between 1998 and 2020 as its nearest competitor, the insurance industry.”
Access to medicines is one part of the vast topic of access to healthcare. It generally isn’t being tackled by artists. It is not restricted to a single disease or place or group of people, but the issue will catch up to most of us, directly or indirectly, at some point. “Big Pharma and the Barkeep” is the title of a poem forthcoming from The Examined Life Journal from the Carver College of Medicine at University of Iowa. I’ll include it when it comes out, and I will continue to explore visual and verbal metaphors to help make clear that this problem is not insurmountable. We can do better.
I look forward to discovering and including work by artists who do approach the topic. In the meantime, stop by weary advocates who could use a rest and inspiration. Stop by if you're not convinced of the out-of-proportion costs of access to medicines. Stop by to grasp the urgency. Stop by to take a load off.