Ellen 't Hoen of MSF spoke at a press conference held by MSF, Oxfam, Cosatu, and the Treatment Action Campaign in Pretoria.

3 Questions With Ellen ‘t Hoen, Lawyer

Ellen ‘t Hoen
Former Director of Policy Advocacy
MSF Access Campaign
2 min
Photograph by Lori Waselchuk

Why is it important for the Access Campaign to pay close attention to patents and intellectual property law?

Patents and other market exclusivities create monopolies that allow drug companies to charge high prices well above the cost of production and what they need to recoup their investment in the development of a medicine. The work of the Access Campaign has helped to create some flexibility in patent law. Patents do not have to form a barrier. If patent owners, or governments, are willing to grant licenses, the patent loses its monopoly effect and lower-priced generics can be made available. 

You played an important role in the negotiations for lower-priced HIV drugs in the early 2000s. How was your legal expertise applied? 

I had some understanding of how the pharmaceutical industry functions and of the power they have over law and policymaking. Asking the companies nicely to lower the prices was not the way to go. We set out to change the rules of the game and took the issue of high drug pricing to the negotiating table of the World Trade Organization and other international institutions. We worked [in coalitions] with groups such as TAC [Treatment Action Campaign]  in South Africa and the Lawyers Collective in India, who fought hard court battles for access to medicines.  
Who are the ‘powers that be’ standing in the way of access, and how do we overcome them?

Governments that lack the courage to take action. To overcome that, you need political action. The fact that the high pricing of medicines is now a global crisis that also affects wealthy nations will help drive change.