Photo of Manica BALASEGARAM Photograph by MSF
Photograph by MSF
Photo of Manica BALASEGARAM Photograph by MSF

MSF’s Access Campaign has been working to help MSF medical teams get access to affordable and effective medicines, suited to the environments where we operate, for well over a decade now.

Dr Manica Balasegaram started his involvement with the Campaign when treating patients with sleeping sickness on his first MSF missions. Now, as the Access Campaign’s new Executive Director, he explains how we continue to respond to the needs of our medical teams and looks ahead to some of the challenges in 2013.

"I remember having sleepless nights on mission, lying awake and worrying what might happen to our patients. We had them on treatment for advanced stage sleeping sickness. But the only medicine available was a derivative of arsenic and caused terrible and painful side effects.

A drug did exist that could treat the disease effectively and without the terrible side effects – it was then being used in Europe and the US to remove facial hair. But the company making it stopped production because it wasn’t a money maker. However, when we subsequently discovered that a cream was being launched on the market, using the same drug, we decided to move in, flex our negotiating muscle and make our demands. The result was an agreement by the company to restart production of the drug. And so we were able to transform the lives of our patients with a better, more effective and safer treatment for sleeping sickness."

Over ten years on and our medical teams still face the same kind of  medical challenges daily, in treating people with drugs, tests and vaccines that aren’t ideal or suited to the environments where they live. MSF’s Access Campaign continues to work with MSF teams in the field to identify the problems and work to overcome them.

Looking Ahead to 2013: Moving towards better TB treatment, better-adapted and affordable vaccines, medical innovation for neglected diseases, & supporting generic medicines

  • 2013 could see the start of a transformation in the way we treat patients with drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis.  For too long, people have had to undergo a gruelling two-year treatment with drugs that can lead to profound loss of hearing, severe nausea and vomiting and psychosis. Now, after years of advocacy by MSF and others, new anti-tuberculosis drugs are at last becoming available. The new drugs give hope that people like Rohatav Abdullaeva in Uzbekistan who is being treated by MSF and the local health authorities, will finally have the chance of a better treatment. Our job now is to make sure they get out to people as quickly as possible, in a way that makes the treatment a lot shorter and a lot more tolerable.
  • 22 million children born in 2013 – that’s one out of every five – will not get the full protection of the basic package of vaccinations. Caregivers like Aquil Bol Mallien struggle to make the required five visits to clinic in her children’s first year life to get them fully protected. New vaccines are also often simply too expensive. In 2013, MSF will be working to ensure that better-adapted and more affordable vaccines are developed.
  • MSF also continues to treat patients with neglected diseases, such as visceral leishmaniasis – or kala azar. 2013 will see us continue to push for new and better medicines at affordable prices to respond to the needs of these patients so that many more people like Kamil from Bihar in India - will be able to get hold of the best treatment at affordable prices.  And that applies to many others too, for whom today’s system of global medical research and development isn’t delivering.
  • In early 2013 people everywhere will be watching out for the verdict in the Novartis case: the drug company has been trying to force India to give many more patents. This could seriously endanger the flow of life-saving generic medicines to developing countries – medicines that Charles Sako, living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, depends on to stay alive and support his family.
  • Right now, there is a concerted attack on the production of affordable generic medicines, and  in 2013 we will continue to support patient groups and others who are standing up to these threats.

To find out more about the work of the Access Campaign and the people we work for, look through our portraits of five people whose lives depict some of the challenges faced by those trying to access life-saving medicines.