“If I can get this treatment, I can live longer”

Tobeka Daki - Cancer patient, activist, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Photograph by TAC
Tobeka Daki was a single mother from Mdantsane township in South Africa who was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer in 2013. Following her diagnosis, Tobeka was informed that she needed trastuzumab, in addition to a mastectomy and chemotherapy, to improve her chances of survival. A chance of survival that Tobeka was denied – not for medical reasons, but because she could not afford to buy it. Her cancer spread to her spine and on November 14, 2016 she died in her home.

What stands between people and the drugs they need?

Drug companies hold patents giving them a monopoly on treatments. Patent laws and regulations can keep drug prices high. 

The MSF Access Campaign works with others to advocate to overcome monopolies and bring prices down and make more medicines affordable and available.

At times, we also try to change the patent laws and regulations to facilitate these results.

For Tobeka Daki, the price was just too high.

This single mother of two started treatment for aggressive HER2-positive breast cancer in 2013. Along with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, her oncologist ordered a medicine called trastuzumab.

The World Health Organization recommends it for controlling her type of cancer and it is the standard of care in wealthy countries.

The price charged by the only pharmaceutical corporation selling it within Africa? About US$35,000 per year. 

Tobeka tried to get access to the drug. But because the drug was expensive and hard for public health systems to get, her request was denied.

Tobeka never got the trastuzumab she needed. Her cancer returned in 2015. She died the following year.

Three things to know about intellectual property


Our medical teams are heavily reliant on affordable generic medicines to treat people in our projects. That's why we work to protect the continued production of generic medicines - in particular from India. Our work includes advocating to remove provisions in international trade deals that could restrict the production of generic medicines.

We mobilise alongside other civil society groups in many places to bring attention to this issue under the umbrella of our ‘Hands Off our Medicines’ campaign. Recent activities have focussed on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks.