Intellectual property rights and access to medicines

July 25, 2017

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Last week, on 17 July, the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines took place at the UN headquarters in New York. Sub-titled “Advancing Health-Related SDGs through Policy Coherence”, the panel came together during the UN High Political Forum on Sustainable Development. William New of the news service Intellectual Property Watch wrote a short report of this event. 

One of the speakers, Michael Kirby, former member of the High-Level Panel and former Justice of the High Court of Australia, first summarized the discourse on affordable medicines for the world’s poor in the past decades. He then highlighted the main recommendations of the latest report of the High-Level Panel, which was issued in September 2016.

Market demands

As an example of the enormous differences between countries in the price of medicines, Kirby gave the example of his native Australia, where the negotiated price with the pharmaceutical company for a medicine against hepatitis C was believed to be about AUS$ 48,000 (US$ 38,000), less than half the price asked in the United States for the same drug. In Egypt, with an epidemic of hepatitis C, the same drug is available for about US$800.

“This is the problem of leaving issues of essential drug care only to markets,” Kirby said. “Markets will not necessarily protect the rights of ordinary citizens. What is the principle of $84,000, $48,000 and $800?” he asked. “There is no principle. It is only what the market demands. We need a more principled response to the needs of health of people everywhere and it is this report that shows the way ahead.”


Read The Case For Nations To Act On Medicines Access. William New, Intellectual Property Watch, 23 July 2017

Access the report Promoting innovation & access to health technologies. High-Level Panel on Access To Medicines, September 2016