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An Advocate for Access to Medicines: Christine Kim

I’ve known Christine since my first week at McGill, and over the course of the past four years, we’ve become great friends. We both hail from Toronto, and upon meeting, we were surprised that we had many mutual friends, despite never having met each other before. Even though we come from radically different academic backgrounds (I am in Political Science, while she is pursuing a B.Sc./M.Sc. in Pharmacology and Therapeutics), we’ve still managed to spend hours together at McLennan, rant to each other about life (read: boy) problems, and crazy-dance together at music festivals.

And while there are many aspects I admire about Christine – for one, her willingness to always be down for brunch – I most respect her dedication and commitment to the things she feels passionate about. As the Co-President of the McGill Students’ Chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), Christine Kim has been instrumental in raising awareness about the need for innovation, access, and empowerment in international healthcare. With the SSMU General Assembly (GA) on November 7th, UAEM launched a campaign to advocate for their motion for SSMU to allow medicine from McGill’s labs be accessible in low- and middle-income countries during times of humanitarian crises.

Now, I am not personally familiar with all the ins and outs of pharmaceuticals, medicine, and patent law, so I sat down with Christine, over a cuppa at the cozy Crew Café (that alliteration though), and asked her to give a layman’s explanation of UAEM and patents.

She explained that, in short, drug development begins in university laboratories, followed by patents granted to pharmaceutical companies through universities, and ends with clinical trials, final approval, and sale. Pharmaceutical companies hold a monopoly on the drugs/technology via these patents granted by universities, like McGill, and can therefore price it as high as they please. But those in low- to middle-income countries, often the people who need the medicine the most, often cannot afford these prices. Christine wants to change this.

“McGill’s current patent standards are inadequate. We are hoping to change this by getting McGill sign onto a new patenting framework, one which improves access to medicines deemed “essential for life” by the World Health Organization (WHO), such as the Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies (SPS), in low- and middle-income countries.”

For Christine, UAEM is not just a resume-builder; it’s a cause worth pursuing and something she feels strongly about. According to Christine, the way we are taught about this issue is biased. Students are taught that due to lack of innovation, drug prices must be increased in order to continue funding the company, and McGill rejected UAEM’s proposal for a new patenting framework at first based on the claim that it would lead to revenue loss.

But this is certainly untrue. The new framework includes a clause to make innovative medicines from McGill laboratories to be accessible at manufactured costs during times of humanitarian crises in low- and middle-income countries, and as all research and development is funded by domestic sales, it will not impact the revenue of the companies or the university (the primary patent holder).

“Despite all this, in our classrooms, we are taught unsupported claims to defend the profit-driven pharmaceutical companies. What I ultimately want to achieve here at McGill is to have the university adopt SPS as its new patenting framework, and provide students with unbiased education on access to medicine.”

Christine grew animated as she spoke to me about the need for the open access of medicine during crises. While McGill has provided her countless opportunities over the past few years, she believes she can give back to the university by improving it.

I wanted to know though, while she disagreed with some of the university’s policies, what her favourite memory of her university career was.

My favourite memory was undoubtedly my semester spent abroad in London. While abroad, I got the chance to be a neuroscience major, which I would have chosen if not for pharmacology. It also offered me the opportunity to make friends from all over the world, and travel across Europe. In fact, I managed to visit over thirty cities while I was there! Missing flights, getting lost, and having the pleasure of being pickpocketed multiple times in foreign countries has definitely taught me invaluable lessons.”

As her close friend, I know that Christine juggles more than just UAEM and school; she also works in a lab, plays in the I Medici di McGill Orchestra (Doctors Orchestra), and manages to also have a social life. Somehow she also slots in time for kickboxing, spin, and pole dancing classes too. I can barely make it to my classes, so I wanted to know how she handles it all.

“I would be lying if I said managing everything always comes easy to me. There are moments when I really want to give up one or two things in my life. In the past few years, the things that I gave up the most easily were my mental and physical health. But approaching the end of my college career, I think I am starting to grasp how important it is to balance these things alongside with my academics. I think it is important to make time for friends and activities I enjoy, even if it means getting a few less hours of sleep. To me, these activities de-stress me more so than anything.”

And, of course, I had to ask her the most important question of all, what is her top brunch place in all of Montreal?

“There definitely are fancier options in the Mile End, but I would have to say my ultimate favourite spot for breakfast is McGill Pizza. It’s the place I think I’ll miss the most about Montreal once I leave. It’s always been the go-to place after a rough night out; casual enough for me to drop by in my sweats with no makeup on, and extremely light on my wallet. Did you know that they give you coffee and orange juice with their breakfast?!”

Christine’s answer surprised me, but it kind of made sense. McGill Pizza is straightforward and accessible – just like how Christine approaches most things in life. 

 

Images provided by interviewee.

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