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Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines

The Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines is an international campaign started by Médecins Sans Frontières to increase the availability of "essential medicines" in developing countries. Infectious diseases like malaria, sleeping sickness and tuberculosis, all of which are uncommon in developed countries, can be effectively treated with certain drugs (the "essential medicines"), but these drugs are usually very expensive, out of production or little understood.

The lack of research into diseases that affect most of the world’s poor population is known as the 10-90 gap and it occurs because pharmaceutical companies rarely make a profit when developing drugs for these diseases. Although some countries have created legislation to encourage development of "essential medicines," which are called orphan drugs in the United States, MSF started this campaign in November 1999 to bring more awareness to the issue [1], and used its prize money from its 1999 Nobel Peace Prize to fund the project [2].

Additional recommended knowledge



HIV/AIDS is one major target for this campaign, since the vast majority of those infected live in poor, developing countries, specifically sub-Saharan Africa (see AIDS in Africa), which has 25.4 million people living with HIV, out of a worldwide total of 39.4 million (2004) [3]. The campaign pushes generic production of antiretroviral drugs for treatment of AIDS patients, and it also helps victims pressure their governments to force drug companies to lower their prices. In 2001, MSF mediated an agreement with the Brazilian Ministry of Health, as well as Fiocruz and FarManguinhos (research and drug production companies, respectively) to produce generic antiretroviral drugs at an affordable price for use in poor countries [4].


Malaria is another major disease faced by sub-Saharan Africa, which sees 90% of the world-wide deaths due to malaria. Although malaria patients do have access to fairly cheap drugs, such as chloroquine and sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine, strains of malaria have developed resistance to these drugs in many severely affected areas [5]. MSF is pressuring governments to fund the development of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), which has been shown to be extremely effective [6][7].


Leishmaniasis is extremely rare in the developed world but often occurs epidemically in poor countries, such as Sudan and Bangladesh. It receives very little international attention, but occurs in four different forms (VL (kala azar), CL, MCL, DCL), three of which are very difficult to treat (VL, MCL, DCL), especially when they occur in combination with HIV infection [8]. Cheaply available drugs include pentavalent antimony (sodium stibogluconate), but although effective in some areas, resistance to this drug is increasing, and MSF is pressuring drug companies to increase research and development into new therapies.

Sleeping sickness

Sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) is currently occurring epidemically in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, but is common in the rest of Africa as well [9]. For advanced cases of the disease, the only available treatment is often melarsoprol, which is extremely dangerous, and increasingly ineffective. In 2000, MSF began a major effort to pressure drug companies to increase research and development for eflornithine and nifurtimox as treatments for the disease [10].

Other diseases

Meningococcal meningitis epidemics can be largely controlled by large-scale vaccinations when a few cases are detected, meaning that expensive, massive stockpiles of vaccines must be kept on hand during epidemic seasons [11]. MSF and the World Health Organisation are negotiating with drug companies to lower costs of vaccines, and to increase research into long-term immunization and drugs for treatment [12].

Tuberculosis, although largely unknown in the developed world, kills millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia [13]. Vaccine and drug therapy exist for tuberculosis treatment, but these drugs are decades old, and MSF is trying to increase research into new vaccines, as well as lower the price for treatment of multiple drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). The current drug therapy, involving diligent dosage of isoniazid, rifampicin, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide, is difficult for patients to follow, leading to more cases of MDR-TB when patients don’t finish their treatment [14].

Other conditions, such as Buruli ulcer, must be treated with surgery for excision of the infected part [15]. Trachoma must be treated with a combination of surgery (if trichiasis has occurred) and complicated tetracycline treatment [16]. Many of these diseases, such as tuberculosis, occur with HIV infection as opportunistic infections, complicating treatment further.

See also


  1. ^  The Campaign Background. MSF Access Website. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  2. ^  MSF Article (2000). Nobel funds allocated to neglected diseases. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  3. ^  WHO (2004). Introduction. AIDS epidemic update: December 2004. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  4. ^  MSF Article (2002). Brazilian generic drugs in South Africa. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  5. ^  Roll Back Malaria. Malaria in Africa. WHO. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  6. ^ *Mutabingwa TK (2005). "Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs): best hope for malaria treatment but inaccessible to the needy!". Acta Trop 95 (3): 305-315.
  7. ^  MSF Article (2003). Africa 'needs better malaria drugs'. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  8. ^  MSF Fact Sheet (2004). Leishmanisasis. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  9. ^  WHO Fact Sheet (2001). African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness. WHO. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  10. ^  MSF Fact Sheet (2004). Sleeping sickness or human African trypanosomiasis. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  11. ^  MSF Article (2001). Meningitis definition and treatment. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  12. ^  MSF Fact Sheet (2004). Meningococcal meningitis.
  13. ^  The Campaign Tuberculosis. MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  14. ^  Division of Tuberculosis Elimination (2003) Treatment of Drug-Susceptible Tuberculosis Disease in Persons Not Infected with HIV CDC. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  15. ^  MSF Article (2002) MSF starts Buruli's ulcer project in Cameroon MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
  16. ^  The Campaign Trachoma MSF. Retrieved Dec. 22, 2005.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Campaign_for_Access_to_Essential_Medicines". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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