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One Person Can Change an Organization

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In the late 90s, South Africa was facing a HIV/AIDS crisis with almost a quarter of all black South Africans living with the virus. The hope for these people was in affordable ARVs which were never close to being affordable as they cost about $1000 per month. Most people could not afford these drugs and relied on the government to subsidize and make them affordable.

The government of South Africa risked bankrupting its health budget, and thus passed a law allowing the minister of health to override patent laws in a health emergency. This would help them to get cheap, generic AIDS drugs to deal with the crisis.

But shortly after, 39 pharmaceutical companies filed a lawsuit against the government of South Africa. They argued that South Arica was trying to violate their patents. The case would have serious implications for the developing world as far as access to affordable healthcare was concerned. To most people, these were greedy global corporations trying to protect their profits as making to harder for the people who needed the drugs most to acquire them.

In 2001, the 39 companies unanimously dropped the lawsuit. The case was closed.

How did this happen?

The answer lies majorly in one man. Dr Tadataka Yamada had just been appointed the chairman of research and development at Glaxo SmithKline, one of the leading pharmaceuticals. When he learnt about the case, he was horrified, and decided to do something about it.

He talked to his staff and realized that many opposed the lawsuit. He talked to the board members and persuaded them to back down. He said Glaxo SmithKline should not make life saving drugs, then prevent people accessing them. 

His action set forth a chain of events that led to the lawsuit being dropped, as well as several other changes that saw Glaxo SmithKline being actively involved in campaigning for global health challenges solutions and dedicating more resources towards diseases ravaging the developing and least developed countries.

One person altered the course of history.

What do you need to change at your workplace?

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