March 16, 2016
In a recent public dialogue of the UN High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, public health advocates, academics, governments, and others presented in Johannesburg, South Africa on ways to address longstanding patterns of inaccessibility and a lack of innovation in the health technologies sector, including for medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.
Launched in November 2015 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN High-Level Panel is tasked to find solutions to worldwide lack of access to medicines and to rectify policy incoherencies between rights of investors, human rights law, trade rules and public health in regard to health technologies.
Clinical Lecturer in Law Brian Citro, Associate Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, was invited to present to the High-Level Panel two submissions he coauthored. The first detailed States’ obligations to ensure health technologies are available and accessible pursuant to the international right to health and the second examined the specific case of availability and accessibility of health technologies for tuberculosis (TB), in light of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. Both presentations included specific recommendations for reforming the global system of innovation of health technologies.
“States have a legal obligation under international law to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to health. Among other things, this requires States to ensure health goods, services, and information are available and accessible, without discrimination, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups”, says Citro. “To meet these obligations, States must intervene when markets alone do not facilitate access to health technologies for people who need them or spur research and development of new technologies for conditions primarily affecting the poor.”
The current approach to innovation of medical technologies, Citro claimed in his second report, is detached from human rights standards in favor of intellectual property interests of investors. Such an approach has created a crisis in access to TB medicines.
“The paradigm under which TB research is financed, conducted, and owned has emerged as a major driver of inequitable access to TB medicines. Research and development for TB and other diseases now occurs along an IP maximalist orientation, principally defined by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.”
The outcome of the High-Level Panel’s work will be an evidence-informed, rights-based report detailing proposals to promote the development and production of health technologies in a way that balances trade, human rights and public health, anchored in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Secretary-General will make the report available to the General Assembly and undertake further action as appropriate.