Oakland-based attorney Priti Krishtel was announced today as one of 25 grantees of the MacArthur Foundation's esteemed annual 'genius' fellowships, for her work in the health justice space.
Priti Krishtel has been working for two decades now to address the global inequities in health care that are caused, in particular, by the legal complexities of patent law. "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 writes in its announcement about Krishtel's $800,000 award.
The fellowships, which are granted annually to individuals in the arts and sciences as well as other fields with no strings attached, are spread out over five years as incentives and aids to continue one's ongoing work. The grant amount was raised this year from the previous award amount of $625,000.
Krishtel, and the organization she co-founded in 2006, the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK), has been working to expose the scale and impacts of the U.S. patent system and pharmaceutical companies' monopolies on life-saving drugs.
Krishtel received her law degree from NYU after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1999, and prior to founding I-MAK she worked with the Indian NGO Lawyers Collective (2003–2006).
Last December, Krishtel published a moving article in the SF Chronicle about the death of her uncle in India from COVID-19. Krishtel's family worked to get her sick uncle an immunosuppressant drug that had shown some promise in severely ill COVID patients, but it was a drug that his hospital did not stock — and ultimately, he still succumbed to pneumonia.
"We have built a global system of health that doesn’t operate on the sacred logic that all people are worth saving," Krishtel wrote. "We have built a system that operates on market logic — that if you can pay and live in the right region, you are worthy of saving."
As the MacArthur Foundation writes, "Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Krishtel has argued powerfully that incentivizing innovation should not come at the expense of equity and public health. Particularly during public health emergencies and for taxpayer-funded research, commercial and public interest concerns can be balanced."
"I think a lot about who owns our right to heal," Krishtel says. "We live in a hierarchy of health. Some people get medicine first, and some don’t get it at all... The challenge right now is that we are living in the age of the bully. A time when a small minority of the historically powerful are trying to own the un-ownable. We are saying no and creating a new, more compassionate and inclusive future in its place."