Médecins Sans Frontières medical teams have long faced challenges in getting effective and affordable treatments for people in our care. In the late 1990s, as frustration mounted over people dying from treatable diseases, MSF began to document the problem, joining with patient groups to speak out forcefully and demand action.
In 1999, MSF publicly launched the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, now the Access Campaign, to tackle the policies, and the legal and political barriers, that prevent people from accessing treatment in the communities where we work and beyond. That same year, MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and put the funds towards improving treatments and boosting research for neglected diseases, merging with the Campaign’s work.
At the time, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was still raging across the world. While lifesaving antiretroviral medicines had transformed HIV into a manageable chronic condition in wealthy countries, treatment was priced out of reach for almost everyone else. In addition, treatments for neglected diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and sleeping sickness were often ineffective, toxic, ill-adapted for use in the places we work, or simply did not exist at all.
For 20 years, MSF has worked with civil society to ensure that pharmaceutical corporations, governments and others prioritise people’s lives and health over patents and profits. The access to medicines movement overcame patent monopolies to make way for generic production and competition of antiretrovirals, and prices dropped 99 per cent over 10 years. This and other achievements of the Campaign, including for hepatitis C, malaria, pneumonia, sleeping sickness and TB, are highlighted below.
But many new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines are being sold at increasingly high prices, and monopolies are becoming more entrenched. We are still missing the tools we need to control rising antimicrobial resistance and outbreaks of epidemic diseases such as Ebola and COVID-19. MSF, through the Access Campaign, continues to advocate the transformation of the medical innovation ecosystem to better address the health needs of people in our care. For example, given that medical research and development is heavily financed by governments, MSF is calling for increased transparency in drug development and production costs, and a larger role for the public in making sure that medicines are made affordable and accessible.
The crisis of access to medicines and innovation is no longer affecting only low- and middle-income countries; it is now truly global. Our slogan, Medicines Shouldn’t Be a Luxury, is still valid; together we must drastically step up efforts to expand people’s access to lifesaving health tools.
MSF launches the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines to improve access to treatment and spur needed medical research.
MSF helps bring down exorbitant prices for five key drugs used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.
A landmark $1-a-day price for HIV medicines, publicly offered to MSF, boosts political will to treat HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries.
The atmosphere in the hospital where we were treating sleeping sickness was very tense because one in twenty of the patients who came to us died simply from the toxicity of the treatment. That’s been my fight ever since, for more than 35 years, to try to bring something better for those patients.Dr Bernard Pecoul, MSF Access Campaign’s first executive director
MSF and partners create the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-profit that has since delivered eight new treatments.
MSF stands with India to defend low- and middle-income countries’ rights to protect access to affordable medicines in trade pacts and patent laws.
For the first time, MSF supports a legal challenge to a patent, for HIV drug tenofovir, to increase access to lower-priced generic medicines.
We did everything we could, we shamed the company (Novartis), we went to shareholder meetings, we marched against them, we delivered petitions. I remember being so big and pregnant, and it being so hot, and we were all marching toward the court, and we were so determined. The only thing that we had were our voices.Leena Menghaney, lawyer, MSF Access Campaign, India
To prevent and treat malnutrition, MSF calls for global scale-up of ready-to-use therapeutic food that contains essential nutrients.
Europe! Hands Off Our Medicine! MSF campaigns to remove provisions from the EU-India trade pact that would block access to medicines.
An MSF doctor and an extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis survivor deliver their Test Me, Treat Me DR-TB Manifesto petition to the 2014 World Health Assembly.
We were always desperately seeking a cure everywhere. Some people were bragging to me about getting (the new) treatment in Singapore for $10,000 or in Vietnam for $8,000. If I wanted to have treatment, I would need to sell my house. So, I decided to wait and if I died, well at least my kids would be left with the house. I am very grateful to now have this cure from MSF. It gives hope to my children and the chance to see their father's face when they are grown up.Din Savorn, police officer, now cured of hepatitis C, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The West Africa Ebola outbreak spurs research and development (R&D) into vaccines and treatments; MSF later supports clinical trials and pushes for affordable, accessible tools.
DNDi’s collaborative, public interest R&D approach delivers a new oral drug for sleeping sickness, filling a longstanding medical need.
After years of MSF advocacy, WHO releases its global strategy for the prevention and control of snakebite envenoming.