June 20, 2016
In November 2015, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, convened a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, which goal would be to “review and assess proposals and recommend solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies.”
The Panel issued an open call for contributions in December 2015; some 180 submissions were received from a diverse range of stakeholders including patients’ groups, human rights organizations, policy-makers, intergovernmental organizations and pharmaceutical companies. All the contributions can be found on the website of the High-Level Panel. On of these came from Sebastian Saville of the UK-based group International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP). IDHDP is an international network of over 1250 medical doctors from 100 member states, with the objective for health to underpin all future policies aiming to address the world’s drug problem. IDHDP provided a brief contribution on the inequity of access to pain medication, which reads as follows (excerpt):
- International drug control systems to prevent the misuse of drugs like heroin are acting as a barrier to access to opioid analgesics for the treatment of pain. This in spite of the fact that member states are obliged to ensure controlled medicines are made available and any restriction of access constitutes a violation of the right to health.
- This has contributed to a situation where at least 75% of the world’s population, has very little or no access to opioid analgesics, particularly morphine for the treatment of pain. This leaves the inevitable situation of huge numbers of people suffering intolerable pain whether dying of cancer, with end-stage AIDS and other terminal illnesses, accidents with acute pain, women in labour and having complications in childbirth, wounded victims of war torn areas or many other situations that bring about severe pain.
- In what can only be described as a completely unacceptable contrast – the USA, Australia, Canada and the UK consumes 68% of the global supply of opioid drugs. These countries seem to have managed quite easily to develop systems to ensure proper access to opioid analgesics for all when it comes to the relief of severe pain.
- IDHDP believes that it is time for a completely unambiguous statement from the UN that every member state should prioritize the removal of any obstructions preventing people in their country from receiving opioid analgesics when necessary.
All contributions received were discussed during two hearings and global dialogues (for which stakeholders were invited), in London and Johannesburg. The High-Level Panel is currently preparing its final report, which will be presented to the Secretary General in June.