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In developing countries, essential medicines can be hard to come by. Diseases common to developing populations can easily spread due to insufficient supplies of essential drugs. Often the diseases which most affect people living in developing countries are no longer common in developed countries, meaning the drugs needed to treat them can be expensive or even unavailable.

A number of charities provide communities in developing countries with access to essential medicines as part of their strategy to combat world heath issues. Some go further than this and place pressure on pharmaceutical companies and governments to make funding available for the production and development of new essential medicines. The French-founded charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is one such organisation.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate MSF is perhaps best known for its initiatives in developing countries and conflict zones. The non-governmental organisation has its headquarters in Geneva and employs more than 25,000 voluntary medical professionals and water, sanitation and logistical experts across around 60 countries globally. The organisation, established in the early 1970s, is largely privately funded by donors.

Partly in reaction to a lack of drugs during its field missions, and increasing prices of drugs used to treat diseases which are commonly found in developing nations, MSF initiated a campaign for access to essential medicines in 1999. The charity found pharmaceutical companies were often no longer producing or developing drugs to treat diseases commonly found in developing nations as they were no longer profitable.

The charity’s campaign tackles a number of issues, among them malnutrition, patent barriers, tuberculosis (TB), medical research and development, and HIV/AIDS. As part of its work with TB, MSF continues to draw attention to a lack of funding for TB research and campaigns for simple diagnostics and new TB drugs.

In recent years, MSF has stretched its mandate beyond being just a healthcare provider to being a human welfare advocate. The award-winning charity’s campaign for access to essential medicines has helped to make drugs such as Novartis’s Gleevec available via generics in countries like India at a considerably lower cost than the patent version.

At the heart of MSF’s principles is the belief that the right to medical care, including access to essential medicines, goes beyond religion, race, political affiliation or creed. Using its prize money from its 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, today the organisation continues its work to overcome barriers to treat diseases that primarily affect the poor in developing parts of the world.

photo credit: NikonGirl1969(busy building a portrait biz)