While working in low-income countries across the globe, pharmacist and virologist Carmen Pérez-Casas gradually came to a realization: "Often, the medicines and diagnostic devices that are most widely used are not the most appropriate." They are either low quality, not adapted to the needs of vulnerable people in remote locations, or altogether absent.
Carmen's career spans 20 years, four continents and organizations such as Pharmacists Without Borders, Doctors Without Borders and the Global Fund. One overarching ideal has guided her work for many years ...
"How can we ensure the quality, affordability and supply of new health products, so that people who most need them don't have to wait for ten years from the date of their approval to benefit from them?"
As senior HIV technical manager with Unitaid's Strategy team, she now identifies the innovations with the most potential to reduce the burden of HIV globally. "My entire career has been devoted to bringing the best health solutions to those who need them, regardless of where they are living or where they were born," she says.
For Carmen, Unitaid was a natural fit. "Left to their own devices, markets cannot ensure access to the best health solutions for all. At Unitaid, we find the best innovations and then remove the obstacles that stand in the way of them being adopted at scale." Innovative products and approaches can make the response to major diseases more simple and efficient, something she sees as critical given that resources are limited, but global health goals are more ambitious than ever.
Her most memorable moment at Unitaid? "The approval of the first project to create a market for HIV self-testing in sub-Saharan Africa," she says. "We saw the need to introduce the tests on that continent at a time they where only available in the U.S.; it was bold, but well worth the effort." Unitaid has gone on to support the largest HIV self-testing campaign in the world, revolutionizing the way men and young people find out their HIV status. By 2020, HIV self-testing could help detect one in every three cases of HIV.
"HIV is a fast-changing field, and the flexibility and capacity to respond to this changing landscape is part of what makes us unique."