In 1999, medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, or MSF) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize ‘in recognition of the organization’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents’. Dr James Orbinski, then President of the MSF International Council, accepted the award on behalf in Oslo, Norway on 10 December 1999.
‘Humanitarian action is more than simple generosity, simple charity. It aims to build spaces of normalcy in the midst of what is abnormal. More than offering material assistance, we aim to enable individuals to regain their rights and dignity as human beings.’Dr James Orbinski, Médecins Sans Frontières, delivering his Nobel Lecture
MSF applied its Nobel Peace Prize proceeds toward confronting a growing injustice: the failure of the market-driven model of pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) to deliver safe, affordable, and effective medicines for millions of neglected patients. This support included creating the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines – now the MSF Access Campaign, with Dr Bernard Pécoul, veteran MSF doctor and DNDi’s founding Executive Director, central to the Campaign’s creation. He put into words a feeling shared by frontline doctors across the world at the turn of the century:
‘Our patients are dying. Not because their diseases are uncurable, but because as consumers they do not provide a viable market for pharmaceutical products.’Dr Bernard Pécoul
MSF established the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Working Group in 2001 to explore a new, not-for-profit model for drug R&D for neglected diseases – uniting partners from both the public and private sectors.
In 2003, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, the Kenyan Medical Research Institute, the Malaysian Ministry of Health, and the Institut Pasteur of France, with the participation of the World Health Organization Special Programme on Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, teamed up with MSF to found DNDi.
For twenty years, DNDi teams and partners around the world have worked to discover, develop, and deliver new treatments for neglected patients that are affordable and patient-friendly – and that have already saved millions of lives. With our focus on neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and paediatric HIV, we have proven the power of open science and collaboration in bringing the best science to the most neglected.
Staying true to our beginnings on the frontlines of medical humanitarian action, we reaffirm our commitment to the rights of all people to health, life, and dignity – regardless of where they live, the diseases that affect them, or how much they earn.
Photo credits: Patrick Robert