On 8 March 2017, Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered this opening address to the Human Rights Council’s panel on Access to Medicines. Deputy High Commissioner Gilmore identified the following challenge posed by intellectual property rights:
The protection of intellectual property rights must not be allowed to trump enjoyment of the right to health: Strong competition laws and policies together with forceful enforcement are required to prevent companies from indulging in anti-competitive practices and promote competitive pricing of medicines.
The entire text of Gilmore’s intervention is reproduced below.
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
8 MARCH 2017, 3 P.M. – 6 P.M.
PALAIS DES NATIONS, ROOM XX
Panel discussion on good practices and key challenges relevant to access to medicines as one of the fundamental elements of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
STATEMENT OF THE DEPUTY HIGH COMMISSIONER
The right to health framework calls for States to ensure universal access to good quality health care, including essential medicines, on the basis of equality and non-discrimination.
In this, the protection of those who are marginalised, those without options – those who routinely are left behind – is essential. Without access to life saving commodities scale realisation of the right to health will remain an unattainable goal.
Further enjoyment of the benefits of scientific progress is a right (the right to science), recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and whose key elements include the affirmation that innovations essential for a life with dignity should be accessible to everyone, without discrimination.
These human rights norms are so fundamental – so intertwined with numerous other rights as to be binding on all States.
Yet, millions are unable today to access essential medicines any due to inherent lack of these commodities, but to entirely man-made policy deficits and entrenched practices which place in the balance the lives and well being of million the world over – and not only those in low-income countries.
For example, as of June 2016, 18.2 million people living with HIV but only half were accessing antiretroviral therapy. A vast improvement on previous periods, this is not nearly enough.
Today we celebrate women, and yet falsely packaged as cultural and political preferences, denial of womens’ and girls’ access to medicines brings injury and death. It is unconscionable that young women can be old enough to catch an STI but deemed too young to have autonomous access to services for its treatment. Indefensible that a young women can be old enough to be pregnant but too young to have contraception. It is unconscionable that we condemn young women for becoming pregnant, expel them from schools, and yet refuse to provide them with the medicines and services they need to be in control of their own fertility.
When medicines are beyond put beyond the reach or means of those who need them, families are left to manage tragic consequences. And when health fails the standard of living falls and many other opportunities and rights become unattainable: the opportunities to learn, to earn and to fulfil one’s potential. Health is an enabler of other rights – and as such needs to be given top priority.
Concrete steps can and must be taken to course correct: As the Special Rapporteur on health has pointed out, States need to shift from the dominant market-oriented perspective on access to medicines towards a right-to-health paradigm. Powerful commercial and other interests should not be allowed to dictate public health policy to the detriment of human rights.
This means recognizing, and responding to, a number of challenges among them:
- The protection of intellectual property rights must not be allowed to trump enjoyment of the right to health: Strong competition laws and policies together with forceful enforcement are required to prevent companies from indulging in anti-competitive practices and promote competitive pricing of medicines.
- Human rights and stakeholder participation must influence trade agreements: Stakeholders have a right to participate in health policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and under the human rights-based approach – trade and investment agreements should be negotiated and concluded with their input.
- Availability, accessibility, and acceptability of good quality medicines for everyone on the basis of non-discrimination must be integrated into health policy frameworks.
- Policy makers and other actors involved in the implementation of health policy are accountable to the users of health services
- We must undo the power imbalances that lie at the heart of this issue by empowering rights-holders to claim their health and health-related rights and hold policy makers accountable for delivering on this.
Perhaps that the greatest obstacles to fulfilling the obligation to ensure access to medicines for all is political will. But it is more than politicals-formal of the State – it is also a question of health economics, the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry, a responsibility of health care providers and health professionals and their schools. We call on all these authorities and actors to stand up for the right to health – a call of true poignancy given this is IWD and given how many women’s, newborns’, children and adolescents’ lives hang in the balance of this determination.