Medical access campaigner
As the Southern African advocacy co-ordinator for the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign, Claire Waterhouse lobbies big pharmaceutical companies and the government in an ongoing effort to lower the price of medicines that save lives.
South African-born Waterhouse did her schooling in Dubai, studied at Rhodes University and completed her master’s in human rights law at the University of London’s school of oriental and African studies. As a field worker for MSF, she spent six months working as a project administrator at a refugee camp in the Central African Republic, and three months each at Ebola treatment facilities in Liberia and Guinea. “Every new day in the field brought a new challenge,” she says. Waterhouse found herself being evacuated from Bangui as bullets rained down, and setting up a temporary refugee camp by herself in a rural location in response to an emergency flood. “My experiences in the field taught me that I can do whatever I put my mind to, and they helped me realise how lucky we are in South Africa — often, we take life for granted. In some places, nobody takes life for granted and just surviving is a battle.”
The struggle many face just to survive is a theme carried forward into her current role, pushing for better access for all to vital medicines, diagnostics and treatment. MSF’s global Access Campaign challenges governments and pharmaceutical companies to make life-saving medicines accessible to those who need them most. In South Africa, this means challenging patent laws that can keep medicines under patent and out of reach of the poor for 20 to 30 years. “In South Africa, we focus in particular on ARVs and TB medication. However, we lobby for affordable medications across a range of other treatment areas too: recently, we picketed outside large pharmaceutical company to reduce prices of a breast cancer drug that is currently completely unaffordable in South Africa, even for patients on medical aid.”
Waterhouse says that while she loves working in the field, she believes her current role, although more desk-bound, could have greater impact in the long term. In future, she plans to continue working in the humanitarian healthcare sector. “Now that I am working in the health rights arena, I realise how huge the challenges are and how much there is to be done.”
In her free time, she and her husband are engaged in renovating their new house in Johannesburg. — Tracy Burrows