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Unaffordable, unavailable, not adapted — people around the world face these challenges in accessing lifesaving medicines.

During the 1990s, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams made a bitter observation: we were failing to treat some of our patients suffering from infectious diseases, while in developed countries, remarkable progress was being made in the field of health.

Two decades on, medicines in developing countries are still either too expensive, aren't suitable to be used in many of the contexts in which we work (for example, in hot, humid conditions or where there's a lack of electricity), or simply don't exist for the diseases we need to treat.

Medicines shouldn't be a luxury

In 1999, we launched the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, now known as the Access Campaign. Its mission focuses on three areas: overcoming barriers to access to essential medicines, stimulating research and development for neglected diseases, and promoting health exceptions to global trade agreements. In 2003, MSF joined several research institutes, including the Institut Pasteur, to create the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-profit research and development organisation engaged in research and development of new treatments for neglected diseases.

In 2019, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of founding our Access Campaign, which works to secure access to affordable medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, for people in our care and beyond. Marking this milestone provides an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned and accomplished – and what needs to be done going forward – in medical innovation and access for all people in need.

Challenges still remain

The medical innovation and access crisis is now becoming increasingly global, with people in developing and developed countries alike experiencing some of the same access challenges we have seen for decades in our work in over 70 countries.

“It’s time to acknowledge that the way drugs are developed and sold today is not delivering the treatments people around the world need at prices they can afford”, says Dr. Els Torreele, Executive Director of the Access Campaign. “We need to see governments and the research community standing up and proposing bold solutions to a problem that is truly global—simply put, the status quo is deadly.”