A University of Calgary club is shedding light on policies affecting accessibility of medicines in developing countries.
Roughly 10 million people die every year due to a lack of essential medicines. These deaths are preventable, however, current global health and patent policies make life-saving medications unaffordable for much of the developing world.
The Universities Allied for Essential Medicines chapter at the U of C is advocating to change these patent policies. The group is encouraging the university to implement changes that will make health technologies developed at the U of C more accessible to countries with limited health resources.
UAEM is an international student organization committed to making patented drugs more affordable in developing nations. UAEM started in 2001 when a group of Yale medical students worked to reduce the price of HIV/AIDS medication in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to UAEM Calgary co-founder and U of C medical student Adam Wiebe, UAEM recognizes that universities provide significant funding for health-related research and are key players in deciding patent policies.
UAEM calls on universities to sell patent rights to standard drug companies that can distribute affordable medicines to developing countries, while selling those rights to pharmaceutical companies. This would ensure that sales can still be maintained in western markets, while allowing essential medicines to be distributed to developing regions of the world.
“Our main focus at the moment is to get involved with work being done about exchanging licensing and patent policies and also to empower students to learn more about global health issues,” said Wiebe.
Wiebe founded the U of C chapter with fellow medical student Autumn Michonski in May 2011 after learning about UAEM.
The University of British Columbia has found success working with the UAEM mandate. Important UBC health technologies, such as a recently developed medication to treat parasites, will be available to developing nations at reduced-patent prices.
Currently, UAEM Calgary is working to build support from students at the U of C while also trying to get professors on board with their cause.
“At the moment, a lot of the research at the university that’s close to being marketed isn’t super useful for resource-poor countries,” said Wiebe. “But the point is to get licensing policy reform ahead of time in case something does come up.”
Director of the U of C Global Health Training Program Christine Gibson thinks the students are doing valuable work.
“I think what these students are doing is fantastic,” said Gibson. “We have an ethical and moral obligation to provide the expertise and research that we are doing at a university level globally.”
Gibson is also the co-founder of Global Generation, a non-profit organization that supports family physician training programs in Laos and Tanzania. Physician care in developing countries has many challenges, according to Gibson, the biggest being the lack of access to medication.
“A lot of the time, patients can’t afford the medicines the doctors prescribe, so they will go to a store and buy some really old medicines that may not be safe. When it comes to diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, that causes more harm than good.”
UAEM Calgary is currently focusing on raising awareness on campus through events like movie nights, poster campaigns and a Global Access to Medicines Month, which is a collective awareness event held by UAEM chapters across the world to harness support and promote advocacy for university licensing reform.
UAEM Calgary is getting involved with licensing reform at the university through Innovate Calgary, which is responsible for commercializing technologies created at the U of C. Innovate Calgary is an organization with goals to ensure that any technologies created at the U of C reach developing markets.