Doing Drugs – Video briefing on access to medicines

Natalie Roberts

Doctor, qualified in emergency medicine, surgery, and tropical medicine, with a Master's degree in the Political Economy of Violence, Conflict and Development (SOAS University of London) and a Master's degree in the History and Philosophy of Science (University of Cambridge), Natalie Roberts joined MSF in 2012. She completed field missions in Syria, Yemen, CAR, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and the Philippines before joining the Paris headquarters in 2016 as Emergency Programs Manager. Since joining Crash in late 2019, she has focused particularly on issues around epidemics, including Ebola, and access to medicines.

Michaël Neuman

Director of studies at Crash / Médecins sans Frontières, Michaël Neuman graduated in Contemporary History and International Relations (University Paris-I). He joined Médecins sans Frontières in 1999 and has worked both on the ground (Balkans, Sudan, Caucasus, West Africa) and in headquarters (New York, Paris as deputy director responsible for programmes). He has also carried out research on issues of immigration and geopolitics. He is co-editor of "Humanitarian negotiations Revealed, the MSF experience" (London: Hurst and Co, 2011). He is also the co-editor of "Saving lives and staying alive. Humanitarian Security in the Age of Risk Management" (London: Hurst and Co, 2016).

On 3rd and 4th February 2022, the CRASH organised a workshop aimed at the leaders, operational managers and members of MSF France, to shed light on the current debates on access to medicines, and to determine together which issues are the most relevant to resolve. In preparation for this workshop, the CRASH asked experts external to MSF to explain their vision of today’s pharmaceutical industry system, with subjects that ranged from pre-development to distribution, and included patents and quality-related issues.

The Covid-19 epidemic has brought back to the fore recurrent debates on the barriers to access to medicines, diagnostic tests and vaccines. MSF has been involved in these debates since 1996, leading the association to first launch the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines (initially known as the CAME, now renamed the MSF Access Campaign) in 1999, and then to support the creation of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) in 2003.

For some in the association, global systems, notably rules around intellectual property, are primarily responsible for the inequalities in access to medicines. Over the last decade MSF's public communications on the subject, led by the Access Campaign, have largely reflected this analysis. However, others question the impact of this approach, and the potential of a focus on campaigning for changes to global systems of patents and drug pricing to effectively address the problems faced by MSF teams and other practitioners in the fields where MSF works.

It is in this context that the CRASH has organised a workshop on access to medicines. Is access to medicines the same issue as it was when MSF first became interested in the mid-1990s? Rather than just concentrating on the obstacles to accessing medicines, should the debate be broadened to encompass what are now called 'health products' or even further, towards access to care and thus, structural problems of human resources, financing, or the absence of national health insurance policies?

The video briefing on access to medicines focuses on several subjects:

  • Research and development - Dr. Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft, COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness Director, DNDi
  • Linking industry to access to medicines: the Sanofi example – Dr. Robert Sebbag, Infectious Diseases Specialist at the hospital La Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris
  • The pharmaceutical economy – Nathalie Coutinet, Lecturer and researcher at the Sorbonne Paris Nord University, member of the Economistes Atterrés
  • Intellectual property – Pascale Boulet, IP ad Access Leader, DNDi
  • What is pharmaceutical development?– Dr. Stephen Robinson, Pharmaceutical Development Director, DNDi
  • What do regulators do? - Bartholomew Dicky Akanmori, Regional Adviser for Vaccine Research and Regulation, WHO AFRO and Chair of AVAREF (African Vaccine Regulatory Forum)
  • Distribution – Dr. Robert Sebbag, Infectious Diseases Specialist at the hospital La Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris

We warmly thank all participants of the interviews.