Through its Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been closely following the developments in the world of access to medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.
Among the positive stories of 2010 - two crucial new medical tools could benefit people in developing countries: a new vaccine could prevent the worst meningitis epidemics in Africa if there is political will to vaccinate broadly in all 25 affected countries, and a new test for tuberculosis could improve diagnosis, while reducing the time it takes to detect drug-resistant forms of the disease from nearly three months to less than two hours.
Further, new research on the treatment of severe malaria in children leaves no doubt that artesunate injections should be used instead of quinine, but guidelines and treatment protocols now need to change. After several years of campaigning by MSF, the Medicines Patent Pool was established, and received strong political backing from the US – but for access to affordable medicines to be boosted by this new mechanism, drug companies will now need to make their drug patents available. And after campaigning since 2007 for improved quality of food aid directed at children under two years, MSF is seeing international food donors starting to review and adjust their policies.
But 2010 was also marked by setbacks. Flying in the face of mounting evidence that better and earlier HIV/AIDS treatment is the best way to tackle the pandemic, international donors are turning their backs on AIDS, causing funding to stagnate and threatening the advances made over the last decade. At the same time, prices for newer drugs are set to go through the roof because of damaging trade policies being pushed by the European Union. MSF has mounted a global campaign to get the EU to back down, and people have taken to the streets in Asia, Africa and Europe in support, but the EU will not relent.
With outbreaks in a number of African countries claiming thousands of lives, the resurgence of measles is an unsettling sign that basic vaccination coverage is not as broad as it should be. Meanwhile, efforts to tackle fake medicines are veering off-course: instead of protecting the public from the dangers of poor quality medicines, these initiatives pose a great risk to access to affordable generic medicines upon which millions of people around the world rely. Finally, the on-going neglect of tropical diseases shows no sign of abating, as South Sudan tackles its largest kala azar epidemic in close to a decade.