April 20, 2022
Interview with Bashar Kailani: Field Coordinator in Ukraine
In France, Médecins du Monde operates a wide range of health programs across the country. Our activities focus on operating health centers, providing access to care to vulnerable communities such as refugees, drug users and sex workers, working with homeless people, and increasing healthcare availability in rural regions.
In addition to our activities on the ground, our French team also plays a vital role in advocating for equal access to healthcare – such as fighting for lowering drug prices. In 2015, we launched an a legal challenge against Gilead’s patent of Sofosbuvir (a treatment for Hepatitis C) – the first ever opposition of a drug patent by an NGO in Europe.
The vast majority of refugees and migrants seeking asylum in France are not aware of their fundamental right to healthcare. In addition, they often find it difficult to access care due to language barriers and lack of financial resources. At our health centers, they can receive the free health services to which they are entitled and in addition we provide information on French health laws and regulations.
We also offer psychological support for those suffering from mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. We were also one of the only NGO’s present in the Calais refugee camp, known as “The Jungle”, until its closure in 2016. In the Jungle, we provided thousands of refugees and migrants with access to primary healthcare.
“I came to France from Darfur, in northern Sudan. It was hell because of the war. They massacred everyone and famine was everywhere. Before leaving, I thought that France was paradise. I thought I would find a house easily and that I could work and study. I realized that it is hard, it is not at all what I had imagined. But I’m happy. I left hell and here, at least, there is peace. “
Since 1999, Médecins du Monde has been working to provide sex workers in France with access to healthcare. Due to an increase in restrictive legislation, sex workers are often forced to carry out their work in more remote areas, greatly exposing them to dangers such as violence and being forced into unprotected sex. Our teams regularly visit areas where sex workers congregate in Paris and Nantes to provide them with free contraceptives and individual medical consultations.
We also offer free STI testing for diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. There are around 20,000 sex workers in France and an estimated 90% of them are immigrants. We work to translate our advice into multiple languages so that all our patients are able to understand the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and their legal rights within France. Our mobile health clinic, the Lotus Bus, has been run by Chinese speaking volunteers working with Chinese sex workers in Paris since 2004.
Médecins du Monde is at at the forefront of the fight against exorbitant drug pricing in Europe. Thousands of patients are being denied access to vital drug treatments such as Sofosbuvir, which can treat Hepatitis C, due to the high pricing of the drug. In 2015, Médecins du Monde launched a legal challenge against Gilead’s patenting of Sofosbuvir, which was the first legal challenge launched by an NGO against a pharmaceutical company in Europe. In addition to legal advocacy, our teams took to the streets too.
To highlight the inaccessibility of vital treatments and the role that big pharmaceutical companies play in maintaining high prices, Médecins du Monde launched the campaign “Le Prix de la Vie” or “The Price of Life”. When we were denied access to traditional advertising space such as bus shelters and billboards, we decided to post our own advertisements across the streets of Paris. With posters reading slogans such as “The more advanced the Cancer, the bigger the profit” and “Only 1% of French people can afford to have Hepatitis C” we further highlighted the inaccessibility of treatments in Europe.