A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Treatment Driver- Meet Peter Mugyeni

Founded in 1991 to serve as a national AIDS research centre, JCRC pioneered the use of Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs) in Uganda, and now provides treatment to more than 40,000 clients across the country.

Much of the growth of the centre has been down to the stoic efforts of Peter Mugyeni, who joined the centre as its first director. It was Peter’s ‘mover and shaker’ antics which enabled ARVs to become affordable to the masses, and which, he jokes, ‘almost sent (him) to prison’.

‘I never accepted that these drugs were impossible to use here. That is what they used to say’, he explained. ‘There were three reasons that they used to give. One, that we lacked infrastructure. Two, that we lacked the human resources. Three, that we lacked the logistics to distribute them’. Peter and his colleagues proved them wrong on all counts.

Peter was also the first to import generic drugs into Uganda, at the very time when South Africa was being taken to court by the pharmaceutical companies for announcing their potential use of generics. When the South African court case was going on, Peter imported generic drugs from India, knowing that it was illegal to do so. He announced the arrival of the drugs to the National Drug authority- and there followed a period of court hearings which debated the use of the drugs in Uganda. Ultimately, Peter engineered a price war with the local drug companies, ensuring that they would match the cost of the imported (and impounded) generic drugs. His personal risk paid off, the cost of ARVs dramatically reduced, and thousands more people consequently have access to the treatment.

Peter was also instrumental in setting up a funding agreement with the American Government to finance ARV distribution in the country. The story goes that Peter was sitting next to Laura Bush at a dinner, convinced her of the deal, and President Bush very soon announced the funding iniative. Seems he knows the appropriate channels!

‘Focus’ and ‘consistency’ have been essential elements to his success, Peter claims, and encourages all people to find their own personal ‘purpose’. His happens to be medicine, and specifically HIV/ Aids- but each to their own!


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