human rights news & views

The right to medicine

Fifteen percent of the world’s people consumes more than 90% of all pharmaceuticals.  Meanwhile, some 2 billion people cannot get the essential drugs they need.

A right to medicine is clearly a component of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.  Drug companies have responsibilities to respect and promote the right to medicine:

"All members of society — including . . . the private business sector — have responsibilities regarding the realization of the right to health."

Prof. Paul Hunt, right to health expert"It is time to identify what pharmaceutical companies should do to help realise the human right to medicine," argues Paul Hunt, UN special rapporteur on the right to health.  "How can we expect pharmaceutical companies to respect human rights if we fail to explain what they’re expected to do?"

To that end, Prof. Hunt last year issued draft Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in relation to Access to Medicines, and sought manufacturers’ feedback.  He has now concluded his consultations and expects to issue a final draft this year.

Adherence to these Guidelines could save 10 million lives every year, predicts Hunt.

The 48 draft Guidelines are concrete and practical, with a sound basis in Hunt’s right-to-health analysis.  Not only will they help pharmaceutical companies fulfill their human rights responsibilities, but they offer a useful standard for those wishing to monitor the human rights performance of the pharmaceutical sector.

As Hunt observes, "transparency is a cardinal human rights principle upon which several other human rights considerations depend."

Pharmaceutical companies should make public their strategies for improving universal access to medicines, according to the draft Guidelines, including research into vaccines and medicines for neglected diseases.

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