World Health Assembly-
For more than 20 years, MSF’s Access Campaign has been working to secure access to affordable medicines, diagnostics and vaccines worldwide. A lot of their work deals with tackling policy, legal and political barriers that prevent people from accessing treatment. 20 years on, the pharmaceutical market is still failing to provide lifesaving affordable medicines for people in developing countries.
After three weeks of intense negotiations, member states at the World Health Assembly held in Geneva last month adopted a resolution on “Improving the transparency of markets for drugs, vaccines and other health-related technologies”. MSF welcomed the move as a corrective step to fix the power imbalance that exists between the buyers and sellers of medicines; giving governments the information they need to negotiate fairly and responsibly for their peoples’ health. However, this wasn’t the milestone we hoped it would be.
While an earlier draft of the resolution addressed four areas where full transparency is urgently needed: research and development costs, clinical trial results, medicines patents and the real prices of medicines, the adopted resolution lacks strong norms and actions on these critical elements of transparency. To ensure fair drug pricing we need to know the mark-ups corporations charge, production costs, the cost of clinical trials, how much investment is really covered by companies, and how much is underwritten by taxpayers and non-profit groups.
“Unfortunately a small group of countries, notably the UK, Germany, the US and Japan, strongly objected and obstructed more concrete advances and chose to place the interests of a handful of corporations above the interests of people. ” - Gaelle Krikorian, Head of Policy, MSF Access Campaign
Resolutions such as the one adopted by the world health assembly need to be strong to ensure medical R&D is conducted in a way that prioritises the needs of the people we care for, and delivers benefits in the form of treatments, tests and vaccines that people can afford, for the global public good.
Back in India, May was difficult for the people of Odisha with cyclone Fani making landfall with wind speeds of over 200 kmph. The severe cyclonic storm caused damage to roads, communication networks, houses and public infrastructure in the state and neighbouring states affecting over 16 million people in over 18 thousand villages leaving many families homeless with no reliable access to shelter, clean water and electricity.
Following the cyclone, MSF sent an emergency response team to Odisha to assess and respond to humanitarian needs in the affected areas. After a discussion with the state authorities, MSF began providing support in the city of Puri distributing shelter and hygiene kits to 5000 households in the worst affected slums. We have also set up a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme to restore clean drinking water for people in the slums, villages and primary health care centres.
“ At this moment there is an urgent need to provide reliable shelter and clean water. As a medical humanitarian organisation, we provide access to clean drinking water to prevent water-borne infections and shelter and hygiene materials to those who have lost everything. The communities overall health and dignity are also important aspects of humanitarian response” - Gert Verdonck, Emergency Coordinator, MSF
WHO’s new Snakebite strategy-
Natural disasters like cyclones and floods usually lead to an increase in cases of snakebite. During the floods in Kerala last year, the WHO recorded an unprecedented number of cases of snakebite as the flood waters started receding.
Snakebite envenoming (venom getting into the blood via a bite or being sprayed into the eyes) kill more people than any other disease on WHO’s list of neglected tropical diseases and remains an underestimated cause of death in India. According to the ‘MillionDeaths Study’ by the Centre for Global Research as many as a million Indians are bitten by snakes every year and over 45000 human lives are lost to snakebite envenoming each year, overwhelmingly affecting the rural poor including farmers and migrant workers.
To address this public health crisis, on May 22 the WHO released a long-anticipated strategy for the prevention and management of snakebite envenoming, with the ambitious target of decreasing snakebite death by half before 2030. MSF and the Indian Snakebite Initiative based at Chennai’s Madras Crocodile Bank welcomed the release of the new strategy by the WHO.
We call it ambitious because the supply of anti-venom treatments continues to be a problem in the most affected countries including in India. In many cases, anti-venoms that have been found ineffective are still being marketed. This calls for an urgent need for the production of safer, stronger and more effective anti-venoms.
“This is an opportunity to finally get serious about tackling snakebites in India and stop unnecessary deaths and disabilities from snakebites,” said Romulus Whitaker from the Indian Snakebite Initiative.
Governments like India must step up now and respond to snakebite with the urgency and attention this neglected public health crisis demands. You can read more about snakebites from WHO here.
MSF staff stories-
If you remember from our last newsletter, we mentioned Dr.Hafiz who had returned from his assignment treating Noma in Nigeria. After some convincing, we finally inspired him to write about his experience on our official blog. Do give it a read! His experience is worth sharing.