Cataclysmic: The Proposed Dismantling of the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign Strikes At the Heart of Influential Activism, Political-Legal Battles in Global Health At Stake

Priti Patnaik

In recent days, access to medicines activists in many parts of the world are grappling with developments that have struck at the heart of the movement.

Médecins Sans Frontières, arguably one of the most powerful, influential and well-funded activist organization in the space, has proposed a restructuring its well-regarded and highly admired Access Campaign that currently works all over the world in the most political and challenging settings and one that consistently led and expanded the access to medical products for a range of diseases. MSF has programmes in more than 75 countries across the world.

From ensuring treatments, to challenging patents, from fighting for lower prices of drugs, to working with governments silently to improve health outcomes, the Access Campaign has been at the frontier of not only taking on the might of the pharmaceutical industry, but also making states more accountable.

After 25 years of path-breaking work including contributing to the creation of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), this crucial work of the Access Campaign is now under challenge from its own organization, that seeks to radically downsize existing staff, essentially pulling the plug off sensitive work on multiple fronts that the Access Campaign is deeply involved with, internal sources say.

For this story we spoke to a range of employees including at MSF, and former staffers. We also spoke with others outside the organization who have worked with the Access Campaign over decades and attest to the importance of the team.