On Friday 25th May I had the amazing privilege of attending the UAEM Europe conference with the Student Stop AIDS Campaign! The conference took place over three days in Basel, Switzerland.
After an early start travelling from Manchester I arrived in Basel just in time to meet up with the other SSAC people and enjoy a guided tour of the city’s most popular sights, including an 11th Century cathedral and the famous river Rhine which would later host our public demo. Following this we met back up with the rest of the attendees (over 200 people from 22 different countries!), and got to learn a little more about what UAEM does.
UAEM stands for ‘Universities Allied for Essential Medicines’, a student-led campaign rallying for policy change within their own universities, attempting to promote awareness of our broken R&D system and change the way publicly funded research institutions patent and license their work. This may sound like a difficult task, but I was surprised to hear how successful each chapter had been in convincing their organisations to participate in socially responsible licensing by adopting Global Access Policies.
Day two brought with it a morning address from Dr. Edwin Constable, the Vice Rector of Basel university’s research department, as well as two fantastic talks by the inspirational women Rachel Kiddell-Monroe and Linda Mafu. Rachel Kiddell-Monroe is a member of the International Board of MSF, as well as being the President of the UAEM board of directors. Rachel’s talk kicked off with a short video reflecting on her experience of the Rwandan genocide, then drawing parallels between those atrocities and the current struggles of those living in the Democratic Republic of Congo today. Rachel also used her time to point out the inadequacy of our unsustainable R&D system, stating the shocking fact that current Hep C therapies can cost up to $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment.
Linda Mafu is Head of the Civil Society and Political Advocacy Department at the Global Fund. Previous to this she worked with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, as well as served as Executive Director of the World AIDS Campaign. Linda’s talk referenced her experiences of racism growing up in South Africa, as well as the unacceptable response of her Government to the AIDS crisis. Linda and her fellow group of educated, organised, and mobilised campaigners faced police brutality regularly in their fight for improved treatment for HIV+ individuals, referred to by their own Government as “traitors”. Linda’s group did not give up their fight, and gradually managed to reduce stigma and secure treatment for those in need. During this talk we were also treated to brilliant renditions of the campaign songs used by the group – I believe the first time a UAEM speaker has ever sang for their audience!
On third and final day of the conference I attended a workshop on UAEM’s latest campaign idea – an ‘Access to Medicines Week’ running from 1st-7th November later this year. The idea of this week is to raise awareness in your university of TRIPs, FTAs, patent laws etc. and what this means for those in need of medical care in the developing world. I think this is a great idea and something which really ties in to what we campaign for at the SSAC, so I will definitely be bringing this back to Manchester and running it with our society! If any other groups would also like to run this week at their university I’ll be sending all the information I receive to Saoirse to distribute out, or alternatively my email address is below for anyone with any questions.
This fantastic weekend in Switzerland ended with possibly my favourite part of the conference – our big stunt on the streets of Basel! Over 200 UAEM members set out with a 40-metre long banner reading “Make Medicines for People not for Profits! – Help us build the bridge to Global Access to Medicines!” After walking through the city with our catchy chants, drawing public attention and distributing leaflets about the campaign, we finally settled along a bridge over the Rhine perfectly positioned in front of the Novartis Basel headquarters.
This weekend was a great success and I learned so much to bring back to the Manchester SSAC with me, thanks for brining me along Stop AIDS!
Anybody wanting to learn more about the great work UAEM are doing should take a look at uaem.org!
Manchester Student Stop AIDS Campaign