An art handler places pills for the art installation by British artist Damien Hirst in the new Brandhorst modern art museum in Munich, May 6, 2009.
Alexandra Beier / Reuters

Mary-Jane Matsolo, wearing tight jeans, gold high-heeled sandals, and a white t-shirt with navy blue block letters reading “HIV Positive,” strides to the front of the Johannesburg conference room. “I’m the one who will make you understand patent laws and intellectual property rights,” she says to the dozen people gathered before her. “It’s what I do, and I do it very well.”

At Matsolo’s prompting, everyone takes turns explaining why they are here. One after another, advocates for persons with mental illness, diabetes, epilepsy, and other diseases bitterly describe how the patients they represent—and sometimes even they themselves—cannot afford the medicine they need. A drug for depression and bipolar disorder is unavailable due to its price; the same goes for medicines to treat epilepsy, cancer, and reproductive health problems. “Most doctors never tell their patients that these medicines will help them,” says one advocate. “Why would they, if the people can’t get the treatment?” Others call out their agreement.

“OK, that’s good,” Matsolo reassures them. “That’s why we are here.” To start her presentation, she shows the group the back of her t-shirt. It reads, “Bad Patents = Death.”

Matsolo is a campaign

To read the full article

  • FRAN QUIGLEY is Clinical Professor of Law in the Health and Human Rights Clinic of Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
  • More By Fran Quigley