Global Justice and Universal Health Define Speech by Oscar Aria Sánchez at International Conference of Drug Management Experts

The former President of Cost Rica and Nobel laureate gave an inspirational closing address at the SEAM conference

WASHINGTON, DC (NOVEMBER 30, 2001) — Former President of Costa Rica and Nobel laureate, Oscar Arias Sánchez, gave an inspirational closing address at an international conference on targeting improved access to essential medicines in developing countries. President Arias spoke movingly about the importance of this conference in addressing one of the most critical challenges facing the world today: how to ensure access to the benefits of medicines and health care for the world's poor. The conference, sponsored by Management Sciences for Health, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was held November 27-29 at the Georgetown University Conference Center.

"It is not simply out of fear that we must all pay attention to the needs of the developing world. It is a question of justice and human dignity...would anyone here subscribe to the statement that a North American child's life is worth more than that of a Sudanese child? And yet by our actions - and especially by our lack of action - we continue to perpetuate a world situation in which these statements, no matter how we deny them, translate into reality," said President Arias.

He then issued a call for action to the international community to take steps to improve "social justice, health, peace, and development for all the world's people," by restraining international arms trading, reducing military spending and investing more funds to meet the health care and education of the poorest in the world, by opening the markets of the developed world to third-world countries, and increasing foreign aid from the wealthy nations to the developing world.

The more than 200 conference participants were made up of Ministers of Health and other high-level government representatives, pharmaceutical industry representatives, university professors and researchers, and distinguished international development experts. The three-day conference provided an overview of the problem of lack of access to essential medicines with situational reports and case studies from seven countries: Brazil, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ghana, India, Senegal and Tanzania. The significance of the gathering was that world experts discussed the practical applications of scientific measurements of drug access. The conclusions reached at this conference will allow for the design of public-private collaborations in some of these countries.

Strategies for Enhancing Access to Medicines (SEAM) is a five-year program, created by MSH and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to improve access to and use of vital and necessary medicines, vaccines, and other health commodities throughout the developing world. It focuses on three major areas of work: targeted country initiatives in two to three countries, collaboration with global initiatives and other programs working to address priority diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and dissemination of information, tools and technology needed to promote sound drug management.