MSF awarded the UAE Zayed Prize for Health - Acceptance speech -
16 May 2002
Mister President, (of the 55th World Health Assembly), Dear Ladies, Gentlemen and Ministers, It is with pride and emotion that I accept this Prize from The United Arab Emirates Health Foundation on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Dr Ibrahim Mohamed Yacoub, who has also been awarded this year's prize along with Médecins Sans Frontières. This honor has been bestowed upon us by one of the most prestigious institutions in the Arabic World, we find this incredibly rewarding and so we convey our warmest thanks to the United Arab Emirates. We were awarded this prize for our medical actions and since I have the opportunity to address all the Health Officials of the entire world, I will try to sum up in brief the nature of our work in the field of health. Besides the emergency medical assistance we provide to victims of war, epidemics and natural disasters, we also intervene in favour of populations with no access to essential health care. Among the numerous and complex problems which lead to poor health for the majority of the inhabitants of this world, one in particular is most alarming, the lack of availability of efficient drugs for the treatment of the major infectious diseases, responsible for the deaths of millions of people every year. This situation has gradually taken hold over the last three decades. It is the result of several factors:
The emergence of resistance to the most common treatments.
The withdrawal of research programs for the diseases affecting populations with a lack of buying power.
The prices charged are too high for the drugs that are essential to the survival of populations in need.
The lack of implementation of special derogations that are part of the International Patent laws.
It is safe to say that during the past few years some glimmer of hope has emerged. The World Health Organisation has clearly expressed its support for the use of efficient quality drugs, notably for the treatment of Malaria and Aids.
Some of the major pharmaceutical companies have started to decrease the prices of these drugs under pressure from competitors who produce generic products, in particular for the anti-retroviral drugs used to treat AIDS.
During the last conference at the World Trade Organization in Doha in November 2001, the importance of public health in relation to commercial interests has been clearly stated. A lot still needs to be done - in particular in the field of research - but we cannot deny that the advances are significant.
New opportunities are theoretically offered to doctors but -and this will concern Health Officials in particular - in the field where we operate we face numerous political and administrative obstacles. Be assured that we have no illusions that the changes necessary in therapeutic protocols on a country scale, or even on a global scale, can be achieved overnight. We know that it could take years to implement and the funding still need to be found in order to implement new policies.
My message also applies to those among the representatives of wealthy states who are able to help other countries with limited resources in order to offer quality treatments to their populations. International aid must stop financing inefficient therapeutic protocols that are not benefiting patients. This is still too often the case, notably in the programs designed to fight against malaria. The financial resources exist and should be made available. The research of new tools adapted to the needs of the patients must become a priority and should be entitled to the necessary increase in funding.
I would also like to bring attention to the Health Officials who are responsible for the health of countries that have financial limitations. These limitations should not in any case justify not starting treatments locally when there are possibilities. Too often the compulsory adherence to national protocols affects any possibility of local implementation.
We need to quickly implement exemplary new actions in order to silence some voices amongst the industrial world, and of some institutional donors, that say that the intellectual competence of our patients and the qualification of local health professionals are too inferior to be able to correctly use these new drugs. It is our responsibility to disprove such theories.
Hidden behind these technical and financial arguments against supplying efficient treatments for these patients is the most cynical disdain towards the poor populations. This disdain has created a medical apartheid, which now characterizes the state of the health of this world in which we live.
Facing this challenge, we must shed light by initially implementing small but significant actions, but which will allow the survival of millions of human beings for tomorrow.
Thank you for your attention.
Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol
President of Médecins Sans Frontières (French section)
Geneva, May 16th, 2002