MSF’s Access Campaign is celebrating 20 years of improving access to affordable medicines for the world's most vulnerable people.
For two decades, we have been working to secure access to affordable medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, including promoting their research and development, for people in MSF’s care and beyond.
Marking this milestone provides an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned and accomplished – and what needs to be done going forward – in medical innovation and access for all people in need.
PRICED OUT OF TREATMENT
MSF launched the Access Campaign in 1999 against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was raging in developing countries.
While lifesaving HIV drug "cocktails" transformed this deadly disease into a chronic and manageable condition in wealthy countries, they were priced out of reach for everyone else.
"Deciding we could not sit by idly and watch this injustice take the lives of so many people in front of us, MSF started the Access Campaign"
At the same time, MSF medical staff lacked adequate treatments for neglected diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), malaria and African sleeping sickness, because pharmaceutical corporations did not consider it profitable enough to develop drugs for people who could not afford to pay high prices.
Deciding we could not sit by idly and watch this injustice take the lives of so many people in front of us, MSF started the Access Campaign.
We wanted to overcome the many barriers that prevent people from getting the treatment they need to stay alive and healthy, focusing in particular on bringing down prices and ensuring medicines are available in countries that need them, as well as stimulating research into improved treatment options.
TURNING OUTRAGE INTO ACTION
With the help of our supporters over the last two decades, we have made advancements in the affordability and availability of key lifesaving drugs and vaccines:
After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, MSF used the prize money to found the Access Campaign © MSF
For HIV medicines, the price came down by more than 99 percent - from over US$10,000 to treat one person for one year in 2000, to less than $100 per year today. Corporate monopolies were broken down to allow robust competition and the production of affordable generic drugs.
In the early 2000s, MSF pushed for a more effective malaria treatment through the "ACT Now" campaign. We urged countries to switch to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), which most countries in Africa did by 2008.
In 2003, MSF co-founded the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) - an innovative non-profit drug development model. So far, this has delivered eight treatments for conditions including malaria, pediatric HIV, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness.
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, we added nutrition and vaccines to our portfolio - successfully improving the quality of food aid provided to children facing malnutrition through the "Starved for Attention" campaign, as well humanitarian access to a pneumonia vaccine for children in crisis through the "A Fair Shot" campaign.
A patient being treated for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) at an MSF clinic in Yangon, Myanmar © Alessandro Penso/MAPS
From 2013, as new medicines to cure hepatitis C were starting to be introduced, the world was confronted with "the $1,000 pill". This situation, alongside the escalating prices of cancer drugs and insulin, highlighted the global crisis of high medicine prices.
We supported legal challenges to the monopoly held by corporations like Gilead Sciences in multiple countries and, along with other civil society organisations, helped reduce the cost of key hepatitis C medicines to roughly US$1 per pill in some countries. However, tens of millions of people are still waiting for the cure.
"BUSINESS AS USUAL WILL BE DEADLY"
“The medical innovation and access crisis is now becoming increasingly global," says doctor Els Torreele, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign.
"The way drugs are developed and sold today is not delivering the treatments people around the world need at prices they can afford"
"People in developing and developed countries alike are experiencing some of the same access challenges we have seen for decades in our work in over 70 countries.
During the 2019 European Parliament election, MSF campaigned for EU action on pharmaceutical corporations © MSF
“It’s time to acknowledge that the way drugs are developed and sold today is not delivering the treatments people around the world need at prices they can afford.
"We need to see governments and the research community standing up and proposing bold solutions to a problem that is truly global—simply put, business as usual will be deadly.”