A worldwide campaign for affordable and effective medicines
In 1999, in the wake of Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, MSF launched the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, since renamed the Access Campaign. Its purpose has been to push for access to, and the development of life-saving and life prolonging medicines, diagnostic tests and vaccines for patients in MSF programmes and beyond.
Deficient medicines, tests and vaccines obstruct MSF’s humanitarian work
MSF aims to bring the best medical care possible to some of the most disadvantaged people on earth. But our medical teams are often hindered in delivering that optimised care. There are many reasons for this but the Access Campaign’s key focus is on the difficulties people face in getting hold of adequate and effective diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines for those diseases that predominantly affect people in the places where we work.
Major obstacles include high drug costs and lack of Research & Development (R&D)
From the start, we have faced two major challenges: the high cost of medicines currently available and the absence of appropriate treatments for many of the diseases that affect patients in the areas where we work. On the one hand, we challenge the high costs of existing drugs - such as those to treat HIV/AIDS - and work to bring prices down. On the other hand, we focus on stimulating research into new medicines for neglected diseases such as tuberculosis, sleeping sickness, kala azar and chagas disease.
It turns out that both access and innovation are intertwined. While there have been remarkable advances on both fronts, formidable tasks remain ahead, both to address existing challenges and to meet new ones. That’s why MSF is pursuing its campaign as vigorously as ever.
- High prices caused by company monopolies: many medicines are too expensive for patients or governments in developing countries to afford – newer treatments used for HIV are an illustration of this.
- Research and development agenda does not target medical needs: another problem is that research and development is not geared towards the needs of people in poor countries.
- Working to develop newer simpler models of care: even when better medicines and tests become available, there are other barriers to be overcome. For example, one key problem delaying the further roll-out of HIV treatment is the chronic shortage of health staff, particularly in Southern Africa.
India, as the ‘pharmacy to the developing world’ for its ability to produce and export life-saving affordable generic medicines, is a key country of focus for many of the Access Campaign’s activities. Safeguarding and strengthening policies that protect India’s production and export of generic medicines, whether campaigning against unwarranted patents or harmful provisions in trade agreements, is vital in ensuring that in developing countries across the world continue to have access to affordable generic medicines. India is the source of 80% of the HIV medicines used in MSF projects and without these life-saving, affordable medicines, it would have been impossible to scale up treatment to the levels seen today.
MSF Access Campaign works closely with patient groups and other health groups to secure the production of affordable and quality generic medicines and focus on ensuring access to treatment and stimulating research and advocate for better drugs and diagnostics on a range of diseases that impact India, including drug-resistant tuberculosis and kala azar.