The Power of Student Advocacy: A Presentation by the Universities Allied Essential Medicines

January 3, 2022
Research Archives

Published in our 2016-17 issue.

Student advocacy can make an important impact on policies such as university regulations on licensing and pricing when working with private companies. These regulations impact the access of life-saving and essential medicines to people across the world. Such were the topics explored by a Teach-In at Duke on November 21st, 2016 by Ali Greenberg from Universities Allied Essential Medicines (UAEM), a global network of students that work together and raise awareness to licensing practices of essential medicines. Ali Greenberg is the Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for UAEM and she brought her experience in global health, advocacy, and research for the Duke chapter of UAEM and the general public. The teach-in mainly focused on the role of universities and student advocacy.

The teach-in centered itself on the principle that “the right to health includes the right to treatment” from Articles 1 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Huma Rights in 1948. The event first showed examples of student advocacy in action such as with Yale University in 2001, where student advocacy pressured the university to make its generic manufacturer sell the drug DT4 to South Africa at a 90% lower cost, allowing the organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to sell drugs. This event marked the start of UAEM.

The event next clarified some common terms used in advocacy for essential medicines. For example, the term “access” entails affordability and availability. “Patent” refers to the right to exclude others and “licensing” refers to the permission to use a patented product. The presentation also heavily focused on the importance of universities in drug research as between 25 and 33% of new medicines originate in a university lab. The processes of drug development and patenting were also discussed.

Next, the presentation focused on ways students can get involved in both advocacy (people-oriented) and activism (action-oriented). Greenberg talked about interacting with Congress through many different avenues, including sign-on letters for Congress, lobbying, power mapping, political climate analysis, and scheduling a legislative visit. She introduced the 3 Cs of lobbying, which are connections, content, and commitment. Greenberg also discussed different UAEM campaigns occurring now across numerous chapters nationally. These include the Take Back Our Meds Campaign, The Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Campaign, and the Global Research and Developmental Agreement Campaign. UAEM’s current focus is on the Take Back our Meds campaign, which is lobbying the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to add strings to university grants so that health innovations consider access and affordability.

The teach-in thus connected Duke students to many avenues through which they can impact university policy and advocate for the fundamental rights of health of people across the globe.

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