Make It Happen Campaign Update

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Make It Happen is the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) campaign to push drug companies to put their patents for HIV medicines into a patent pool

Geneva, campaign headquarters, October 7, 2009A week since the campaign was launched, well over 7,000 e-mails have been sent to the drug companies by supporters from Japan to Mexico, Myanmar to Burkina Faso. There is relief, too, at campaign headquarters that it has come together and gone so smoothly so far.

"With ever-higher medicine costs, we need new ideas and fast if we are to continue to be able to treat people living with HIV/AIDS, let alone increase treatment for millions in need. MSF is 100 percent behind this patent pool initiative and we will work with others with all our might to give it the support it needs to get off the ground. Please add your voice to ours."

—Dr Christophe Fournier, President, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières

The campaign is being rolled out country by country and we’re particularly looking forward to the launch in Switzerland later this month when we’re promised that a large inflatable pill will be symbolically dropped into Lake Geneva. We’ll upload some photos when it happens.

The drug companies’ response

Early days yet, but the German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies told reporters this week that drug prices aren’t the issue—rather it’s the lack of medical doctors in developing countries that is blocking treatment.

Although it is true that holes in infrastructure and human resources are a challenge, determined international efforts are to thank for 4 million patients receiving AIDS treatment today—the vast majority in developing countries.

Drug companies should not divert attention from the issue of high prices, but rather take this opportunity to join the patent pool and help build a system where the price of medicines is no longer a barrier for patients in developing countries.

We’ll keep you updated on further responses and let us know if you hear back from the companies, too. Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts about how to get our message out further—send your thoughts along to: feedback.msfaccess@msf.org

Patent pool myth-buster

Myth:
We don't need a patent pool because 95 percent of essential medicines—the medicines included on the World Health Organization's (WHO) List of Essential Medicines—are off patent.

We say:
The 95 percent figure is true. But this isn’t very relevant to the question of patents on AIDS medicines. WHO’s List of Essential Medicines contains medicines that target all diseases. Most of the medicines on this list are very old and therefore the patents have expired for example penicillins and some anti-TB drugs.

Antiretroviral drugs do feature on the list but many of those listed are in fact under patent in one country or another. So this figure of 95 percent doesn't say much about the need for a patent pool for HIV drugs.

In many African countries, it is true also that many antiretrovirals are not presently patented, but that’s not much help either. All too often, those countries don’t have the know-how to make their own more affordable, generic versions of the drug. Instead, they have to rely on importing these generic drugs from India or other producing countries. Trouble is many of the newer and improved antiretrovirals are nowadays either patented in India or a patent has been applied for. So by putting all the patents into a patent pool, we can ensure that affordable, generic versions of urgently-needed antiretrovirals can be made.