Over 150 students marched and tore down a mock brick wall outside Massachusetts Hall yesterday to protest what they said were “fundamental gaps” in the University’s recent online statement of commitment to increase access to new health technologies in developing countries.
The protestors, members of the organization Say Yes to Drugs, which advocates for access rights to medicine in developing countries, said that the University should have a strategy for generic access for poor people in place before seeking patents for health technologies in countries like India and China, which have the capacity to produce cheap generic drugs.
“Harvard’s words about access are empty,” Krishna M. Prabhu ’11, a member of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), said at the rally.
However, according to Kevin Casey, Associate Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs, the University and Say Yes to Drugs share the same goals.
“Our response to those goals is most reflected in [what] we think they are the clearest and most progressive statements we have provided thus far,” Casey said.
Say Yes to Drugs has proposed that the University include students, public health experts, physicians, and patients in the process of deciding whether to patent medicines in other countries.
“Right now the voices for access aren’t in the room when Harvard makes decisions about who gets access to Harvard’s medical technologies and who doesn’t,” Prabhu said.
He said that these additional perspectives would be key to developing strategies to equitably balance access and incentives for innovation.
“We are not against patents,” said Sarah E. Sorscher, head of the Harvard Law School chapter of UAEM.
“We do not want to kill drug development. We just want to make sure Harvard medicines get to patients in poor countries,” she said.
The last speaker at the rally, Scott T. Gregg ’11, shared a personal story demonstrating the importance of access to drugs by comparing the fate of people in third world countries to the experiences of his father who suffered from a brain hemorrhage, and grandfather, who suffered from malaria respectively.
Gregg said he believed that many attendees at the rally had in some way been touched by disease.
“To be able to relate can help to illuminate the problem,” Gregg said.
At the closing, the group ran, cheering, into a strip of butcher paper painted to resemble a brick wall, representing the barriers to pharmaceutical access in developing countries that the rally hoped to break.