New Forms Of Transnational Organisation On Access To Medicines: The Global Activist Response To The Imatinib (Glivec) Case

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Eduard GREBE , Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Marcus LOW , Policy and Research Department, Treatment Action Campaign, Cape Town, South Africa
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, global AIDS treatment activism had been characterised by innovative forms of organisation, including the construction of transnational 'networks of influence' (Grebe 2011;2012) incorporating activist networks and broader coalitions comprising national and intergovernmental bureaucrats, scientists, the media, etc. These networks were built and deployed in order to expand access to patented antiretroviral drugs priced beyond the means of developing country governments, with significant success. Following its successes, however, the movement largely demobilised. The recent patent dispute between Novartis and the Indian patent office over the rejected patent application for the cancer drug imatinib (sold as Glivec)—the rejection eventually confirmed by the Indian Supreme Court in 2013—spurred existing activist networks into action for a globally-coordinated campaign in support of the rejection (especially after the United States placed India on a trade "watchlist" in response). The mobilisation described in this paper illustrates the innovative characteristics of activism on access to medicines in the context of globalised corporate power, as well as global trade and intellectual property rights regimes. These forms of organisation include North-South and South-South collaboration and horizontal forms of organisation that span geographic and sectoral boundaries—representing what Ferguson (2004) might have termed 'horizontal topologies of power'—in order to deploy influence and social power at the global level. The paper further develops the 'networks of influence' theorisation of transnational civil society mobilisation previously described.


Ferguson, J. (2004) "Power Topographies" in  D. Nugent and J. Vincent (eds.) A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics. Oxford: Blackwell.  
Grebe, E. (2011) "The Treatment Action Campaign's Struggle for AIDS Treatment in South Africa: Coalition-building Through Networks" in Journal of Southern African Studies 37(4):849-868.  
Grebe, E. (2012) Civil society leadership in the struggle for AIDS treatment in South Africa and Uganda. PhD Thesis. Cape Town: University of Cape Town.