Access to medicines and the right to health

The issue of access to medicines is a fundamental component of the full realization of the right to health. Medical care in the event of sickness and the prevention, and treatment and control of diseases, depends largely on timely and appropriate access to quality medicines. Previous mandate holders have extensively elaborated on the elements, obstacles, principles and responsible actors in ensuring access to medicines for all. 

Despite progress made, many people still lack access to essential medicines. This is due to the obstacles that block access to medicines of good quality, in an affordable and timely way, mostly in developing countries. This challenges human dignity and the basis of all human rights, including the rights to life, health and development of all persons. 

From a human rights perspective, access to medicines is intrinsically linked with the principles of equality and non-discrimination, transparency, participation, and accountability. There remains an intrinsic link between poverty and the realization of the right to health, where developing nations have the greatest need and the least access to medicines. 

States are obliged to develop national health legislation and policies, and to strengthen their national health systems.

Reports and Consultations


Upcoming virtual seminar on access to medicines and vaccines on 8 December 2021

Human Rights Council resolution 41/10, requested the High Commissioner to organize an full-day intersessional seminar on good practices, key challenges and new developments relevant to access to medicines and vaccines as one of the fundamental elements of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Participants to the virtual consultation must register via Indico (https://indico.un.org/event/35630/). Only those registered will receive the link to join the event, shortly before it starts. Please remember to indicate in the registration form whether you wish to intervene as a speaker during the Questions & Answers sessions.

Objective

The virtual seminar on good practices, key challenges and new developments will explore:

  • The key human rights challenges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a special focus on developing countries and persons living in poverty and in situations of vulnerability;
  • Particular challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for the enjoyment of their human rights by those living in poverty, children and other persons in vulnerable situations, including older persons, persons with disabilities, women, girls, migrants, minorities, LGBTIQ and persons deprived of their liberty.
  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine inequity in terms of growing inequalities, with a particular emphasis on the requirement of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health to eliminate vaccine inequality;
  • Global cooperation and measures that can be adopted in order to improve the universal access to health as a fundamental human right, including access to medicines, medical products, assistive technologies, palliative care and treatments, as well as more advanced technologies;
  • Ways and means to increase transnational research and exchange of knowledge in research, development and innovation between developed and developing countries in order to diversify sources of production of medical products and innovation in health, particularly in the context of public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Format

This virtual seminar will take place on 8 December 2021, in an online platform over two 2-hour sessions (10.00-12.00 and 14.30-16.30 CEST).  The programme will focus on two different thematic areas, starting with an overall opening segment, introductions of the theme by the panellists followed by an interactive discussion:
Panel I (10:00 to 12:00 CEST): Human rights challenges in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a special focus on developing countries, particularly their poorest and most vulnerable populations

Panel II (14:30 to 16:30 CEST): Global cooperation and measures to improve the universal access to health as a fundamental human right.

The event is open to Member States, relevant United Nations bodies, agencies, funds and programmes, treaty bodies, special procedure mandate holders, national human rights institutions, civil society, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders.

Information regarding participation, including the submission of statements for the interactive discussion, and technical guidance as well as the online platform hosting the event, is available separately. Simultaneous interpretation will be available in six languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).

Background documents

  • Programme
  • Concept note
  • Guidance for speakers' list
  • Human Rights Council resolution 41/10 of 19 July 2019 entitled “Access to medicines and vaccines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”
  • Human Rights Council resolution 46/14 of 29 March 2021 entitled “Ensuring equitable, affordable, timely and universal access for all countries to vaccines in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic”
  • Impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world, including good practices and areas of concern, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/46/19, March 2021)
  • Central role of the State in responding to pandemics and other health emergencies, and the socioeconomic consequences thereof, in advancing sustainable development and the realization of all human rights, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/47/23, May 2021)
  • WHO Road Map for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and other Related Health Products 2019–2023
  • General Assembly resolution 73/3 of 10 October 2018 entitled ‘Political declaration of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the fight against tuberculosis’
  • General Assembly resolution 73/2 of 10 October 2018 entitled ‘Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases’
  • General Assembly resolution 71/3 of 5 October 2016 entitled ‘Political declaration of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on antimicrobial resistance’
  • United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Access to Medicines (web page) and the Panel’s report on promoting innovation and access to health technologies (September 2016)
  • Human Rights Council resolution 32/15 of 1 July 2016 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”
  • General Assembly resolution 70/1 of 25 September 2015 entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”
  • Report of the 2015 Social Forum on Access to Medicines (A/HRC/29/44)
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover, on access to medicines (A/HRC/23/42), 1 May 2013
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, on Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in relation to Access to Medicines (A/63/263), 11 August 2008
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General comments No. 14 (2000) and No. 17 (2006)

Contributors

High Level Opening

  • Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [video statement] and [written statement]
  • Dr. Marcelo Queiroga, Minister of Health, Brazil [video statement] and [written statement]

PANEL I. Human rights challenges in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a special focus on developing countries, particularly their poorest and most vulnerable populations

INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE PANEL I

PANEL II. Global cooperation and measures to improve the universal access to health as a fundamental human right

INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE PANEL II

Conclusions and closing

Webcasts:

1st Meeting, Intersessional Seminar on Access to Medicines & Vaccines - Human Rights Council | UN Web TV
2nd Meeting, Intersessional Seminar on Access to Medicines & Vaccines - Human Rights Council | UN Web TV