By Georgie Wallis, Missing Medicines Officer on the Youth Stop AIDS Steering Committee, 25th October 2019

At this year’s Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn announced the new policy of ‘Medicine for the Many’. This new policy will prioritise people’s health, and access to medicines, rather than profits.

Jeremy Corbyn said

We will redesign the system to serve public health – not private wealth – using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines. We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all. And we will create a new publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS saving our health service money and saving lives. We are the party that created the NHS. Only Labour can be trusted with its future.

So what does this mean?

For years, big pharmaceutical companies have been profiting, while millions around the world do not have access to the medicines they require either because they are too expensive, or simply do not exist. Without access to affordable and life saving medicines, we will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending AIDS by 2030.

Pharmaceutical companies currently have the power to buy research done by universities, which is publicly funded through tax payers’ money, and then create medication to sell back to the NHS at extremely high prices. Basically meaning that we (the public) pay twice for medicines! An example of this is the lifesaving Tuberculosis drug Bedaquiline, developed by the Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, who are withholding medication from thousands of people worldwide who need it. Find out more about Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) Bedaquiline campaign here

The prices charged by pharma are so high that many countries around the world cannot afford the life changing medication needed for its people. Pharmaceutical companies just want to generate profits, so if something isn’t profitable for them – they won’t do the research or develop the drugs. For example, they are much more likely to research male pattern baldness than HIV medication for children. This means that 52% of children living with HIV worldwide do not have access to the medications they need to survive past their 2nd birthday. Check out STOPAIDS and Global Justice Now’s 2017 report which highlights just how much money we spend on researching new drugs, to then not be able to access them! 

Why is this so important for Youth Stop AIDS?

For the last year, Youth Stop AIDS campaigners around the country have been working on our current campaign ‘The Peoples Prescription’. We have been calling on the UK government to change the current unfair system. Labour’s new policy would do this! Labour will introduce a state-owned generic drug manufacturer whi would supply cheaper medicines to the NHS as opposed to the very expensive drugs currently being supplied by pharmaceutical companies. 

This was a huge campaign win for Youth Stop AIDS and something that young people should be so proud of! It shows how influential and powerful we are and gives us the necessary push to continue campaigning to try to encourage other parties to adopt policies like ‘Medicines for the Many’. This is especially important considering that young people are disproportionately affected by HIV – worldwide, AIDS-related illnesses are a leading cause of death among young people aged 18-25, and improved access to medicines could play a huge part in changing this. A recent poll showed that 86% of 2,045 people surveyed supported Labour’s new policy, showing us just how important and necessary this policy is!

For more on Labour’s announcement, check out STOPAIDS’ statement here.