Indian-American health justice lawyer Priti Krishtel awarded MacArthur Fellowship

Priti Krishtel, a California-based Indian-American health justice lawyer, who has been working to expose the inequities in the patent system on a global scale, was named the prestigious MacArthur Fellow. 

Krishtel, 44, was named among 25 recipients chosen across the US for this annual award for showing exceptional creativity, the MacArthur Foundation announced on Wednesday. The award comes with a USD 800,000 no-strings-attached grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago. 

The 2022 MacArthur Fellows are architects of new modes of activism, artistic practice, and citizen science, Marlies Carruth, director of MacArthur Foundation said in a statement. They are excavators uncovering what has been overlooked, undervalued, or poorly understood. They are archivists reminding us of what should survive, it said. 

By distilling the technical aspects of the patent system to show its sometimes-devastating impact on people’s lives, Krishtel is galvanizing a movement to center people instead of only commercial interests in our medicines patent policy, the MacArthur Foundation statement said. 

Early in her career, Krishtel worked to increase access to anti-retroviral (ARV) treatments at the height of the global AIDS epidemic, the foundation said in her profile. 

She has been working to highlight the technical aspects of the patent system in the healthcare industry and to show how monopolies often reduced the availability of life-saving medications in lower income countries, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. 

The UC Berkeley alum is the co-founder of the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge, which promotes public advocacy in the pharmaceutical patent system. 

In 2021, she accused US pharmaceutical companies of abusing intellectual property law to enhance their monopolistic positions. “I think a lot about who owns our right to heal,” Krishtel, said in a statement. “We live in a hierarchy of health. Some people get medicine first, and some don’t get it at all. Our ability to heal should not depend on our ability to pay or where we live. But it does,” she elaborated. 

Krishtel has worked as a self-described health justice lawyer for more than two decades, and has most recently taken on the grossly inequitable patents on the life-saving COVID vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper report said. 

The patent system is not working as intended, she wrote in her statement. The system blocks competition and concentrates the power to access medicine in the hands of an elite few. It helps create that hierarchy of health. Medicine must always be a global public good. Knowledge can no longer be locked up in this way, she added. 

Krishtel received a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and a JD from the New York University School of Law. She worked with the Indian NGO Lawyers Collective before co-founding the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK) in 2006, where she is currently the co-executive director. 

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