Global Citizenship – where does the AMS fit in?

Posted by: | January 30, 2007 | Comments Off on Global Citizenship – where does the AMS fit in?

The AMS recently passed a motion to support the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. If you haven’t read them/are too lazy to Google, they can be found here:

At first I thought the motion was out of order as this had no context or relevancy to the AMS. And then I re-read the 1948 declaration which stated “Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.” (see link above)

Within this spirit, I would like to make a personal appeal to the candidates running in this election. See after the jump.

To give some background I will borrow from an article which I wrote a while back:
We see an increasing trend in public universities and biomedical research institutes where the promise of future royalties from licensing agreements with private corporations (eg. pharmaceutical companies) has become a prominent alternative source of revenue. This severely cripples the social contract between a public research grant and subsequent publication of research, which could eventually be translated into a public good – such as a cure for a rare disease.

Furthermore, the lucrative idea of licensing new discoveries to private industry has caused areas of public research to be more and more catered towards the commercial market-oriented interest, away from neglected diseases and deeper into the select realm of profitability. Very little, if anything at all, has been done by the governments to move away from this trend.

Undergraduate, graduate, medical and law students across North America have come together to lobby for change. The Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) has recently launched a worldwide petition called the Philadelphia Consensus Statement, with a mandate to promote equal access to university research, promote research and development for neglected diseases, and measure research success according to impact on human welfare instead of the number of patents filed in a given year.

There has been measurable success in other universities such as the University of Washington and Yale. This has caused next to no profit loss to the pharmaceutical industries, as there is no market for their drugs in the third world countries in first place. Generic drug companies in these countries would drive down the costs of these drugs (since the patenting laws are lifted within those geographic borders) and provide them at accessible costs. The most common reaction is that there would be attempts to smuggle the drugs back into first world country. Case study after case study has shown that this has not happened.

The University of British Columbia, with an increased focus on research activities over the recent decade, and with the adoption of the Trek 2010 Document, bears responsibility to live up to the mandate of the Philadelphia Consensus Statement. As former President Martha Piper stated: ”The University of British Columbia…will prepare students to become exceptional global citizens, promote the values of a civil and sustainable society, and conduct outstanding research to serve the people of British Columbia, Canada, and the world”. If research produced at a public academic institution such as UBC is accessible primarily by select individuals with privileged monetary wealth, then we cannot in our right conscience call ourselves global citizens.

Last year, AMS Council passed a policy motion supporting this initiative.

I have brought this issue up with the President Stephen Toope last week and the UAEM (which I am part of) will be meeting with him, the VP Research John Hepburn, and the University Industry Liaison Office head Angus Livingston. However, this movement – to incorporate equitable access provisions in our licensing agreements and fostering neglected disease research – will require the further cooperation and lobbying of the AMS President, VP Academic, Board of Governors, and Senators. We the students will be playing an integral role. As Gandhi said, “we must be the change we want to see in the world.”


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