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Life & Death Matters

By Joan Killough-Miller

Anne St. Martin, armed with a double major in chemistry and international affairs, is poised to change the world. Conquering a growing health crisis is first on her agenda.

It’s the kind of statistic that stops you in your tracks: Every day, 37,000 people die from treatable infectious diseases.

That’s not what Anne St. Martin came to WPI to learn. A native of Ontario, Canada, she came to study chemistry and prepare for a career in the pharmaceutical industry. She saw intellectual property (IP) as a legal specialty that would reward her with a comfortable lifestyle—one that would allow her to indulge her passion for horseback riding. Time with horses was something she’d always had to work for, starting with her first stable jobs at age 12. With a good career in IP, St. Martin thought she might be able to afford a farm of her own one day.

But she graduated last May a changed person. Her revised goal is to work for change in IP legislation, to ensure that essential medications will be available to needy people in developing nations. It was her global education—which included projects and course work in seven different countries—that altered her worldview and opened her eyes to a growing health care crisis.

“I was always keen on traveling,” says the alumna. “I knew that I would definitely take advantage of the Global Perspective Program.”

In fact, she may have set some kind of record for passport stamps on a WPI diploma. She did her Humanities Sufficiency in German language and culture at the Technische Universität Darmstadt, and her chemistry MQP at École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques in Nancy, France. In between, she spent a summer in Russia, participating in a Chemistry Research Experience for Undergraduates at Moscow State University. But it was her projects in Africa and Asia that affected her most profoundly.

In Windhoek, Namibia, St. Martin’s IQP team worked out an equitable water pricing system for residents of informal settlements in that impoverished, arid region. “Seeing those settlements and working with the people there changed my whole perspective,” she says. “After going to Namibia, I thought, ‘I have all these opportunities. I should do something besides going to work for a pharmaceutical company.’”

Back at WPI, she began researching global health care issues and factors that make treatment unaffordable and unavailable in the developing world. Her research led her to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she interned with Health Action International Asia-Pacific (HAIAP) for her MQP in international studies. She also assisted with an international conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, cosponsored by HAIAP, called “The Future of Health Services: Who Will Live and Who Will Die.”

Her MQP report brings together disturbing statistics on poverty and lack of health care in developing nations with information on recent IP legislation governing the pharmaceutical industry. She focused on the World Trade Organization’s agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (commonly called TRIPS). There is growing concern among health care advocates that the agreement, which was designed to protect patent rights of corporations, is making essential medications unaffordable and inaccessible in the developing world.

“Anne shows how some simple reforms of TRIPS would ensure that the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies are still protected, at the same time allowing developing nations to produce generic versions of essential medicines that, daily, could save the lives of thousands of their poorest citizens,” says Bland Addison, associate professor of humanities and arts, and St. Martin’s project advisor.

The well-traveled alumna’s dream is to set up a nonprofit network of experts who would serve as a resource on IP issues to developing countries. “What I would like to do eventually is work within the UN, specifically for WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), where I could give voice to the concerns of the developing countries,” she says. To help accomplish that goal, this fall she begins the joint JD/Master of IP program at Franklin Pierce Law Center, in Concord, N.H.

St. Martin remains thankful for all the educational opportunities she’s had, and for the support of WPI’s faculty and the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division. “Show me another university where you can complete a double major in four years and study for two months on five different continents,” she challenges. “It was such an incredible experience.”

“At school, I realized that life is bigger than horses,” she says. “I still love them. They keep me sane and make me happy.” She has attained a rare balance that she will carry into her future life, which she expects will include a home, a family, and even horseback riding.

“I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to live the way we do, or to have the careers we have,” she contends. “I think that deep down, people really do care—it’s just that we’re sheltered here. If more people could see for themselves what the rest of the world is really like, then I think they would try to work for change. That’s why WPI projects are so important.”

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Last modified: Sep 28, 2006, 11:32 EDT
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