Paying Tribute to a Warrior Against Big Pharma: Zahara Heckscher

All of us at Public Citizen lift up in loving memory our dear friend and peaceful warrior Zahara Heckscher, who passed away on February 24 at the age of 53, after her years-long battle with breast cancer. 

Among her many talents as a writer, poet, teacher and facilitator, Zahara was a fierce, creative and committed activist. As she valiantly battled advanced breast cancer, she became determined to fight for all patients to have access to the cutting-edge cancer medicines that extended her life. 

When she learned that prescription drug companies were using the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to lock in extended monopolies that threatened access to affordable medicines, Zahara became a passionate trade justice advocate on behalf of cancer patients around the world. 

She galvanized testimony from people living with cancer and HIV/AIDS from the United States and other TPP countries to protest what she dubbed the “TPP death sentence clause” — a provision that would require governments to grant monopoly periods for biologic medicines used to treat cancer and other serious illnesses and thus deny patients access to more affordable generic and biosimilar medicines.  

The battle over biologics and access to cancer treatment was responsible for dragging out TPP talks for years. In October 2015, she carried those patients’ stories with her to the final round of TPP negotiations in Atlanta to demand that the TPP negotiators drop the “death sentence clause”. She was arrested as she attempted to enter the negotiations, holding an IV-pole, calling on the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to drop its insistence on demanding the extended monopoly period for biologic medicines. 

The video of her arrest was shared widely on social media, and her subsequent media interviews on Democracy NowThe Big Picture and others contributed to the national conversation about the dangers of the TPP for health. Due in part to the advocacy of public health advocates like Zahara,…

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