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

Previous Special Rapporteurs have explored access to medicines in numerous thematic reports.

  • Report to the Human Rights Council, May 2013 - A/HRC/23/42

Main focus: access to medicines in the context of the right-to-health framework

Mandated by the Human Rights Council and aimed at promote access to medicines for all, without discrimination, the Special Rapporteur undertook a study on access to medicines and the right to health in 2012. The report elaborates on issues such as essential medicines, local production, procurement, distribution, quality control and appropriate use - in addition to the key elements previously identified (i.e. availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality). States are called to shift from the dominant market-oriented perspectives towards a right-to-health paradigm in promoting access to medicines, not only to provide care in the event of sickness, but also as prevention, treatment and control of diseases.

Questionnaires for Governments in English - Français - Español

Questionnaires for pharmaceutical companies in English.

Questionnaires for international civil society organizations in English.

  • Report to the Human Rights Council, March 2011 - A/HRC/17/43

Main focus: report on expert consultation on access to medicines

The Special Rapporteur held a consultation in Geneva on 11 October 2010 with presentations from experts and an interactive exchange of views and concerns. The issues discussed include the need for States to develop suitable national health legislation and policies and to strengthen their national health systems.

  • Report to the General Assembly, August 2010 - A/65/255

Main focus: report on expert consultation on access to medicines

Main focus: the right to health and international drug control, compulsory treatment for drug dependence and access to controlled medicines

The report addresses the unnecessary limitations imposed by the international drug control regime in accessing essential controlled medicines out of fear of diversion from legitimate medical uses to illicit purposes. Although preventing drug diversion is important, this risk must be balanced against the needs of the patient to be treated, notably in cases of (a) management of moderate to severe pain, including as part of palliative care for people with life-limiting illnesses; (b) certain emergency obstetric situations; and (c) management of epilepsy.

  • Report to the Human Rights Council, March 2009 - A/HRC/11/12

Main focus: right to health in the context of access to medicines and intellectual property rights

The report addresses intellectual property rights. It considers the financial affordability and the impact of intellectual property (IP) laws on the access to medicines. It also stresses States’ obligations to protect the right to health, including by ensuring access to affordable medicines to all, and provides particular recommendations to developing and least developed countries vis-à-vis free trade agreements (FTAs) and the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS).

  • Report to the General Assembly, August 2008 - A/63/263

Main focus: accountability mechanisms and human rights responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies in relation to access to medicines

The report provides the Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in Relation to Access to Medicines and should be read in conjunction with the report to the General Assembly on the reduction of maternal mortality (A/61/338). The Guidelines, drafted in extensive consultation with relevant stakeholders, address pharmaceutical’s human rights responsibilities and accountability.

  • Report to the Commission on Human Rights, February 2003 - E/CN.4/2003/58

Main focus: Definition of the human right to health

The report outlines the supportive role of international agreements vis-à-vis public health policies and access to pharmaceuticals and medical technologies. It announces the intention of the first mandate holder to examine Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreements in the context of the right to health and access to medicines.