[Ip-health] SOUTHNEWS: Human Rights Council adopts historic resolutions on access to medicines
thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jul 5 02:50:34 PDT 2016
No. 112, 4 July 2016
SOUTHNEWS is a service of the South Centre to provide information and news
on topical issues from a South perspective.
Visit the South Centre’s website: www.southcentre.int.
Human Rights Council adopts historic resolutions on access to medicines
By Adriano José Timossi and Viviana Muñoz-Tellez
The Human Rights Council adopted by consensus two important resolutions
reaffirming that access to medicines and enhancing capacity building in
public health are fundamental elements for achieving the full realization
of the right to health. Members agreed to hold panel discussions during the
next sessions. A panel discussion on access to medicines will be held at
the 34th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2017. A panel
discussion on enhancing capacity-building in public health will be held at
the 35th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2017.
The 32nd session of the Human Rights Council concluded last week in
Geneva. In what constitutes a historic event for the health and public
rights agenda, two resolutions were adopted by consensus.
The draft resolution 32/L.23 entitled “Access to medicines in the context
of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health” was tabled by Brazil, China, Egypt,
India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa and Thailand. The resolution was
also supported by 72 cosponsors.
As one of main outcomes, the resolution decided to convene at its
thirty-fourth session, a panel discussion to exchange views 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, taking into
account all relevant reports, and that the discussion shall be fully
accessible to persons with disabilities.
This panel will be an opportunity also to debate the outcomes of the work
of the High Level Panel established by the UN Secretary General which
outcomes are to be presented in the coming months. In adopting this
resolution by consensus, Member States of the Human Rights Council have
agreed to advance access to medicines as a key priority in the context of
progressive realization of the right to health.
During the past 10 years the Human Rights Council has considered the issue
of access to medicines through different initiatives in resolutions and
reports. The last resolution 23/14 in 2013 was adopted by a vote of 31 in
favour to 0 against, with 16 abstentions. The current approval by consensus
brings back a good spirit of work of the Human Rights Council on this issue
which contributes to advance the agenda on access to medicines.
It is also a timely moment to bring back the issue to the Council, taking
into account recent developments in other fora and the need for continued
debate and discussion on best practices to uphold the primacy of human
rights, including the right to health, over trade, intellectual property
rights and other economic agreements and interests. Importantly, the
resolution reaffirms the ability of countries to use the flexibilities
available under the WTO agreement on trade related aspects of intellectual
property rights to promote access to medicines, in recognition that patents
can be used to set high prices for medicines.
A new momentum to promote access to medicines has been created with the
adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goal 3 on
Health and the 2015 edition of the Social Forum on “Access to medicines in
the context of the right to health”. It also builds upon these recent
developments and previous resolutions adopted at the Council and the
ongoing work of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and recently
established UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines.
The resolution reaffirms the need for access to affordable, safe,
efficacious and quality medicines for all as a primary human right and
underscores that improving such access could save millions of lives every
year. The resolution also calls upon Member States and other stakeholders
to create favourable conditions at the national, regional and international
levels to ensure the full and effective enjoyment of the right of everyone
to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The resolution also recalled that the Doha Ministerial Declaration on the
Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and
Public Health confirms that the Agreement does not and should not prevent
members of the World Trade Organization from taking measures to protect
public health. It also called upon States to promote access to medicines
for all, including through the use, to the full, of the provisions of the
Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights which
provide flexibility for that purpose, recognizing that the protection of
intellectual property is important for the development of new medicines, as
well as the concerns about its effects on prices.
Ambassador Regina Maria Cordeiro Dunlop of the Permanent Mission of Brazil
to the United Nations in Geneva introduced the draft resolution on behalf
of the core group. Amb. Dunlop recalled that for millions of people
throughout the world the full enjoyment of the human right to health still
remains an elusive goal. According to the WHO, at least one third of the
world’s population has no regular access to medicines. No effort should be
spared to realize this right for all. Health is a fundamental human right,
indispensable to the enjoyment of many other human rights and necessary for
living a life in dignity.
Amb. Dunlop also explained that the resolution aimed at reaffirming access
to medicines as a fundamental element in the realization of the right of
everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical
and mental health, and noted the support and engagement of all delegations
during the informal consultations and constructive contributions that
helped to pave the way toward a common understanding on access to medicines
as a fundamental element of the right to health.
Ambassador Ajit Kumar, Permanent Representative of India to the UN in
Geneva, also made a statement as a member of the core group of the
resolution on access to medicines. Amb. Kumar noted that challenges of
access to medicines are no longer limited to developing countries or to the
so-called neglected diseases. It is effecting people in the global North as
well, stretching the health budgets of all governments and impacting
treatment to common diseases like hepatitis and cancer.
Amb. Kumar also noted that the existing global framework does not allow the
fruits of medical innovation to be equitably shared, in particular to those
who are in most need of them, and the innovation models that thrive on the
current system have failed to address the health R&D needs of developing
countries. This is evident from the lack of any new medicines and vaccines
for long known infectious diseases like TB and Malaria, which continue to
take a huge public health toll.
Amb. Kumar further noted that the Human Rights Council has made some
seminal contributions in recognizing access to medicines as a fundamental
component of the right to health. A number of Council resolutions have
reaffirmed the right of Member States to give primacy to public health over
trade and intellectual property considerations as enshrined in the Doha
Declaration on Public Health and TRIPS Agreement. Despite this, the
barriers to the full use of TRIPS flexibilities have only increased. The
trend to impose TRIPS plus standards further threatens the full realization
of the right to health of millions of people by placing further obstacles
to access to medicines.
Amb. Kumar stated that there is a need to once again place the human rights
dimensions of access to medicines at the centre of efforts to create
favorable conditions at the national, regional and international levels to
ensure the full realization of the right to health and the health related
goals of Agenda 2030. The current draft resolution builds on the previous
Council resolutions on the topic.
Amb. Kumar noted that the resolution appreciates the establishment of the
High Level Panel on Access to Medicines by the UN Secretary General with
the mandate to address policy incoherence in public health, trade, the
justifiable rights of inventors and human rights in the context of access
to medicines and innovation, and noted that the Office of the High
Commissioner has participated actively in the expert advisory group
supporting the High Level Panel. Accordingly, Amb. Kumar stated that it
would be a timely opportunity for the Council to take into account recent
developments and have a constructive discussion on how Member States and
other stakeholders can overcome some of the persistent barriers to access
to medicines, and achieve the much needed policy coherence in the area of
human rights, intellectual property, trade and investment policies by
reaffirming the importance of human rights when considering access to
A second draft resolution 32/L.24 entitled “Promoting the right of everyone
to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental
health through enhancing capacity-building in public health” was also
adopted by consensus. It recognizes the need for strengthening capacity
building for public health and was introduced by China with numerous
The resolution reaffirms that strengthening public health is critical to
the development of all Member States, and that economic and social
development are enhanced through measures that strengthen capacity-building
in public health, including training, recruitment and retention of
sufficient public health personnel, and systems of prevention of and
immunization against infectious diseases.
The resolution also recognizes the importance of substantially increasing
health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention
of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least
developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked
The resolution provides that a panel discussion will be held with the
participation of States, relevant United Nations agencies, funds and
programmes, academics and experts and non-governmental organizations, with
the objective of exchanging experiences and practices on realizing the
right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health by enhancing capacity-building in public
health. The High Commissioner is tasked to prepare a summary report on the
panel discussion and to submit it to the Human Rights Council at its
Both resolutions also welcomed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,
including its Goal 3, which highlights the importance of ensuring healthy
lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, and recalled in that
regard the adoption on 28 May 2016 by the World Health Assembly of its
resolution WHA69.15 entitled “Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development”. Member States also welcomed efforts of the World Health
Organization, in cooperation with Member States, in enhancing
capacity-building in global public health and in meeting the targets
specified in Sustainable Development Goal 3.
The two resolutions adopted by consensus comes at a good time when the
celebrations of the 30th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to
Development are taking place, a declaration in which the right to health is
recognized as well as access to medicines and public health as key elements
for realizing the Right to Development.
Authors: Adriano José Timossi is Senior Programme Officer of the Global
Governance for Development Programme (GGDP) and Viviana Muñoz-Tellez is the
Programme Coordinator of the Development, Innovation and Intellectual
Property Programme (DIIP) of the South Centre.
More information about the Ip-health