On 8 March 2017, the Permanent Representative of Portugal, Ambassador Pedro Nuno Bártolo, made a powerful intervention at the Human Rights Council’s panel discussion on access to medicines. Portugal stressed that access to medicines is a fundamental element of the right to health and highlighted how the high prices of hepatitis C and cancer medicines made them unaffordable to large segments of the population in industrialized countries. Portugal drew the Councils’ attention to a recent “groundbreaking report adopted by an overwhelming majority” of the European Parliament which noted the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNHLP). Portugal indicated its commitment to discuss the follow-up and implementation of the UNHLP Report at the WHO, WIPO, WTO, OECD, the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. In his concluding remarks, the Ambassador of Portugal posed a pointed question to the Human Rights Council’s Access to Medicines panel on how they would advise States on promoting measures to provide transparency on the costs of R&D for new medicines, especially in relation to the use of public funds.
34th Session of the Human Rights Council
Panel discussion on good practices and key challenges relevant to access to medicines
8 March 2017
Statement by Portugal
We welcome the convening of this panel. Granting access to quality and affordable medical products to all is a fundamental element for the realization of the human right to health and of universal health coverage. Portugal is deeply committed to the realization of this human right, without discrimination, including by increasing access to medicines through the adoption of a human rights-based approach.
All regions of the world face, at different levels, insufficient access to medical products. In recent times, the dramatic increase of prices of new and innovative medicines made them unaffordable to large segments of the population also in rich countries, while threatening the sustainability of health care systems. In too many countries, prices of new medicines (to treat Hepatitis C and cancer, for instance) are particularly shocking.
The OECD itself acknowledged recently that Governments need to further work with the industry and regulators, to ensure that the development and use of new health technologies is accompanied by the delivery of more affordable and value for money treatments.
And last week, the European Parliament, in a groundbreaking report adopted by an overwhelming majority, welcomed the report of the High-Level Panel and called on the European Union institutions and on Member-States to take steps to implement the recommendations therein. Portugal for its part is ready to discuss the follow-up and implementation of those recommendations with all stakeholders in all relevant fora, including the WHO, WTO, WIPO, OECD, the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.
Access to medicines is a human rights issue as well as a public health issue. We need to work together in order to ensure policy consistency between all relevant interests at stake, so that we will leave no one behind. Those interests are not necessarily contradictory and must be pursued jointly and in a balanced manner. We welcome the contribution provided in this regard by the High-Level Panel Report. To quote the UN Secretary-General himself, this report is “a milestone in our ongoing dialogue and our quest for sustainable solutions”.
We also welcome in this context the entry into force of the protocol amending the WTO TRIPS Agreement.
I’d like to ask panelists how they would advise States to pursue more transparency in the determination of costs of research & development for new medicines (in particular a better traceability of the public funds used in that regard, in order to better reflect actual costs in the final price of the medicine).