Burkina Faso: One million petition for greater access to medicines

MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines intensified in Burkina Faso in early 2002. In January, the Bangui Agreement came into force in the country, one of 16 West African signatories. This trade and regulatory agreement holds countries to stringent rules regarding imports and generic manufacturing of drugs. This effectively limits the countries' ability to make full use of the provisions in the World Trade Organization's TRIPS agreement which enable access to key medicines. MSF helped mobilize an advocacy network dedicated to obtaining a review and eventual softening of the Bangui Agreement. As part of this effort, grassroots petitions addressed to the country's president and prime minister garnered over one million signatures before being presented in July 2002. For more on the relation between trade-related intellectual property rights and access to medicines, see page 19. In spring 2002, meningitis again ravaged Burkina Faso, part of Africa's "meningitis belt." The country experienced the first large-scale outbreak ever recorded of W135, a rare strain of the disease. While mass vaccination is key to containing most meningitis epidemics, for the outbreak of W135 MSF and other actors had to concentrate on treatment, because the only effective vaccine is virtually unavailable in Africa and only minimally available in Europe and America. Epicentre, an epidemiological research center associated with MSF, has studied the Burkina Faso outbreak in an effort to develop strategies for fighting W135 in the coming years. Over the last year, MSF began work with some of Burkina Faso's many HIV/AIDS sufferers. In November 2001, a clinic offering free and anonymous testing as well as treatment of AIDS-related infections opened in the capital Ouagadougou. Treatment to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to babies is expected to begin by October 2002. Meanwhile, a project providing medical and psychosocial care to street children continued in Ouagadougou. Public education over the last year included production of The Street is No Paradise, a film which was shown on national television and in provincial cinemas. MSF also continued its support of the Sindou health district in the southwest. MSF has been active in Burkina Faso since 1995. International staff: 6 National staff: 30