It’s a little unusual to see the Obama administration singing the praises of Doctors Without Borders, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nonprofit that is shipping doctors, drugs and supplies to West Africa to combat the Ebola outbreak.
When President Barack Obama lauded the “incredible heroism” of American doctors who travel to countries such as Sierra Leone to do “God’s work” and “keep us safe,” on Tuesday, he was celebrating a community packed with Doctors Without Borders volunteers. United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power has been more explicit, using the acronym for the international group’s French name, Medicines Sans Frontiers, in speeches and on Twitter.
“MSF … are already leading the charge,” Power told the U.N. Security Council in September, before conveying the harrowing story of one MSF staffer’s experience fighting Ebola in Monrovia.
But the recent executive branch acclaim for Doctors Without Borders obscures a long-running struggle between the humanitarian group and the White House over global drug prices. Through trade talks, meetings with foreign governments and negotiations with multiple U.N. bodies, the Obama administration has aggressively pursued policies that prevent poor countries from accessing low-cost generic versions of expensive name-brand medications, despite persistent calls from Doctors Without Borders for the White House to reverse course.
The Obama administration declined to comment for this article. Even if it took different positions on global generics, the White House couldn’t have prevented the Ebola outbreak. But Doctors Without Borders, which also declined to comment for this article, has consistently argued that the administration’s policies create public health barriers for poor countries.