Join IAHPC online on February 16 for an interactive dialogue on availability of

Categories: Policy.

  essential controlled medicines with the Special Rapporteur for Health and other experts.

By Katherine Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Senior Director of Partnerships and Advocacy

Earlier this month I attended an expert panel discussion at an intersessional meeting of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the topic of drug policies and human rights. The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental the right to health, which includes the right to palliative care, is affected by drug policy in multiple ways, one of which is rational availability of internationally controlled essential medicines.

Decades of historical stigma around opioids, unduly restrictive national regulations regarding production, prescription, and distribution in many countries, and lack of an appropriately trained health workforce have resulted in these medicines being unavailable in more than 85% of the world where people need them for palliative care and many other health conditions.

Almost every speaker on the expert panel pointed out this dramatic failure of the international drug control system in their presentations. This new, high-level attention to controlled medicines was unthinkable a decade ago, and is the fruit of patient advocacy work and many cross-sectoral collaborations.

Online workshop on access

Since I was in Geneva for the HRC panel on drugs, I met with an advisor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) with whom I have worked to advance the rights of older persons.

He invited me to participate in an online workshop organized by OHCHR on key challenges and new developments in ensuring access to medicines, vaccines, and other health products in the context of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The topic of key challenges and practical solutions regarding access to medicines will feed into a comprehensive report that will be presented to the HRC, with the expectation that it will take action. Of course, at the workshop I will address the issue of lack of availability of controlled medicines in so many countries around the world.

Your participation can help stimulate high level interest at the HRC

Although palliative care advocacy’s evolutionary time frame at UN organizations discourages funders, recent blossoms have started to appear in the form of a High Commission (OHCHR) report on human rights and drug policy, the in-person session I attended on Monday, and the online expert panel I have been invited to participate in on February 16.

The vitality and utility of the panel discussion on February 16—whether it will have a life beyond the two hours allotted to it on that day—will depend on the quality of online participation by civil society organizations and individuals such as yourselves.

Please spread the word, register for the event, and contribute in the Q & A and the chat.

The 90-minute event features interactive dialogue among the four panelists, including the Special Rapporteur for Health, followed by an interactive dialogue with member states and online participants (you!). We need your testimony, especially from settings where availability of internationally controlled essential medicines is “low to inadequate,” to quote the International Narcotics Control Board.  Of course this includes medical emergencies.

You can read IAHPC’s submission on availability of controlled medicines to the OHCHR’s call for inputs with a human rights focus here.

Advocacy takeaways  Don’t get discouraged by the seemingly glacial pace of progress!

Build alliances with organizations that share your policy goals, such as the one we have been building since 2010 with the International Drug Policy Consortium.

When one path leads to a dead end in the short term (such as getting on the agenda of the Human Rights Council itself), find another way. I built relationships with then Special Rapporteur for Health Dr. Danius Puras in those early days, and the Independent Expert on the Rights of Older Persons, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld Matte. The new mandate holder is Dr. Claudia Mahler, now also a friend and ally.

Also, stay the course! The company is brilliant. Dedicated, compassionate people who go the last mile with you until we get the job done.





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