[Ip-health] Representative of the UNHCHR in Colombia: Right To Health, Colombia And US Congress

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Mon Jul 25 10:48:49 PDT 2016


​Right To Health, Colombia And US Congress
07/22/2016 07:43 pm 19:43:02 | Updated 2 days ago​

​Todd Howland
Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia

Recent memos allegedly leaked from the Colombian Embassy in Washington
describe intense pressure by the pharmaceutical industry and its
Congressional allies to discourage Colombia’s efforts to half the local
price of Novartis’ Gleevec, one of the leading medications used to treat
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). See Huffington Post “Colombia Fears
U.S. May Reject Peace Plan To Protect Pharma Profits.”

As a US citizen, as the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights in Colombia since 2012, and as a person with CML, I believe
that if US citizens and members of Congress know what I know about Colombia
— and about CML — they would see that these strong-arm tactics cruelly
threaten human lives, and also undermine our own economic and security
interests at a critical time for Colombia.

Without medication, CML — a cancer that starts in the bone marrow — kills
almost everyone who has the disease. Gleevec, approved in 2001, and its
successors, radically changed the outlook for CML patients, and more than
two out of three people who are able to follow the current protocol of
lifelong treatment can expect to achieve a normal, productive lifespan.

The yearly price tag for Gleevec is $106,322 in the U.S. and $31,867 in the
U.K. A generic version costs about $8,000 in Brazil. My six years of
treatment have cost $635,000 for the drugs alone, most of this thankfully
covered by my UN health insurance. But, in Colombia, I am not the norm.
Without government intervention, many Colombians with CML today will simply

Like almost all countries in the world, apart from the US, Colombia treats
access to health care, including medication, as a right: the government
covers the medication costs of all but a small minority of citizens who
have private health insurance. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights has indicated to Colombia that it must ensure that those
with limited incomes have access to life-saving medicines.

As Novartis’ biggest-selling drug, Gleevec in 2015 produced revenues of
$4.7 billion. Advocates estimate the material cost of producing a year’s
supply of Gleevec at $159.

As our bilateral trade agreement with Colombia indicates, and as President
Obama reiterated during his March 2016 visit, Colombia is one of the US’s
most important Latin American partners. Fifty years of civil war in
Colombia have cost US taxpayers billions of dollars - and now, finally,
Colombia is on the brink of a comprehensive peace accord that will end the
armed conflict and create a framework for enormous social changes needed
for a lasting peace grounded in respect for human rights.

We recently committed $450 million to support the peace process, but leaked
communications reported that US Congressional members have threatened to
reduce this commitment if Colombia insists on purchasing generic Gleevec.

Such threats are short-sighted. Cost savings on Gleevec would allow
Colombia to divert hundreds of millions of dollars to projects that ensure
Colombians’ basic human rights and promote the long-term economic
development and stability essential for peace.

As a U.S. citizen who lives and works in Colombia and owes his life to the
scientists who helped create Gleevec (Brian Druker of Oregon Health and
Science University, Nora Heisterkamp, Janet Rowley, Peter Nowell and David
Hungerford) and to the US government grants that contributed to developing
this vital medication, I invite members of Congress threatening to withhold
support for the peace process to join me in visiting the areas of Colombia
devastated by 50 years of conflict and to meet ordinary Colombians,
including those with CML, whose future is at stake.

The United States has a historical commitment to peace and human rights,
and Colombia has a moral, and legal, obligation to do its utmost to protect
the lives of its people. We have a choice: we can punish Colombia — and the
individuals who suffer from CML — for striving to respect the fundamental
human right to health, and in doing so, undermine Colombia’s progress
toward peace and stability; or we can build on our investment and promote
an ethical and humane foreign policy, facilitating a human rights success

Todd Howland is the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights in Colombia, the commentary reflects the personal views and
experiences of the author, and do not necessarily represent any official
position on the part of the United Nations.​

Zack Struver, Communications and Research Associate
Knowledge Ecology International
zack.struver at keionline.org
Twitter: @zstruver <https://twitter.com/zstruver>
Office: +1 (202) 332-2670 Cell: +1 (914) 582-1428

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