By Nicole Lam
What is UAEM?
In a nutshell, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) at Western advocates for equal access to lifesaving medicine. It’s one chapter out of many around the world, each with the same overall goal. UAEM’s story starts in the 1960s with the discovery of stavudine at Yale University.
Stavudine was one of the first antiretroviral drugs on the market, but Bristol-Myers Squibb was the only pharmaceutical company manufacturing it. Its monopoly on stavudine raised its prices beyond what people with HIV/AIDS could afford.
Together with Médecins San Frontières, a group of students at Yale convinced the university and Bristol-Myers Squibb to allow generic production of stavudine in the early 2000s. This effectively led to a price drop for the HIV treatment, and to the birth of Universities Allied for Essential Medicine.
What does UAEM do?
UAEM Western operates at the university level, focusing on specific policies Western can put in place to ensure transparency and justice in their medical research. There are several committees within Western’s chapter, each with their own mini-project.
Michael Lee, UAEM Vice-president and head of the Access committee, is working with his committee to implement a global access licensing framework (GALF) at Western.
“It’s a framework that ensures all future discoveries will be licensed in a way that is accessible to everyone, not just the developed countries that can pay high prices for it,” explains Lee.
Within the Access committee are the Access Report Card Project Sub-committee, which is working on a report card that ranks universities based on their research in global health and treatment access, and the TPP Project Sub-committee, which does everything TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)-related—from raising awareness about what it is to encouraging local MPPs and university administration to discuss the consequences of its implementation.
The Innovation committee, headed by UAEM Vice-president Emmy Sun, is part of UAEM’s overall global R&D (Research and Development) treaty project. The treaty is aimed to address the “innovation gap”, which Sun describes as “the lack of research in less profitable fields such as antimicrobial resistance, neglected diseases, and vaccines.”
In addition to their activist activities, UAEM also hosts several events during the year aimed to educate students about research patents at both the global and the university level. The Global Health speaker series and case competition (in partnership with HOSA and Partners in Health) is one of UAEM’s new events.
Why does it matter?
“As science students and future medical researchers, it is important to understand where we stand in the world and the social implications of our research,” says Lee.
Culture, economics, and politics are often entangled with science—“pure science” doesn’t exist. Whatever we do within academic research affects, and is affected by institutions outside of the university.
“It’s easy to say as a science student that you ‘don’t need to be political’, but politics affect every aspect of everyday life,” says Michelle Dong, president of UAEM Western. “The laws shape and influence your health, your lifestyle, everything, so it’s incredibly important to be informed as a global citizen.”
What can you do?
Students doing research in labs should be considering how their research is going to impact healthcare today, not just looking for positive results in isolated experiments.
Dong recommends reading the news as a start, especially news related to healthcare and trade deals.
“Oftentimes, it can feel like that because we are undergraduate students, we have very little say and very little impact on what goes on at the university,” says Dong. “But that is not the case with UAEM. Each student has a tangible project and committees have collective goals with timelines that try to target the task that should be completed to further our goals of seeing no one in the world dying from a preventable disease.”