Pharmaceuticals sector guidelines pass the UN testNovember 2008
A set of human rights guidelines for pharmaceuticals companies has been accepted by the United Nations.
The guidelines, which have a strong focus on how the sector can improve access to the two billion people in developing countries who lack essential medicines, have been drawn up by Paul Hunt, a UN special rapporteur on how states and others can ‘promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health’.
Consulted upon and successively re-drafted over the past two years (EP9, issue 6, p7), the recommendations are likely to have considerable clout due to their UN backing. They say that all pharmaceuticals companies should have a public policy on access to medicines setting out objectives, time frames, reporting procedures and lines of accountability, with direct board-level responsibility for the policy.
There should be clear management systems with quantitative targets and a ‘comprehensive’ annual progress report. Companies should disclose any lobbying activity that may limit access.
Hunt, a law professor at the UK’s Essex University, drew up the proposals with input from industry, partly facilitated by the Ethical Globalization Initiative, a human rights body.
While generally supportive, some companies last year criticized drafts for failing to suggest that other actors, such as governments and civil society, should be similarly held to account. The final version does not address these complaints, although in the preamble Hunt says that nation states ‘have primary responsibility for ensuring both the right to the highest attainable standard of health and enhancing access to medicines’.
Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co, which submitted formal comments on the draft guidelines earlier this year, said he was ‘in strong agreement’ with the objective of ensuring broader access. But he added: ‘What would result in more meaningful dialogue ... is an analysis of all of the barriers and the role of all players in the public health arena – governments, donors, international agencies, NGOs and the private sector, including generic and state-owned companies.’
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