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Early Morning 1B: Access to Essential Medicines as Part of the Right to Health: Any Progress?
Objectives of the session:
To review progress in two specific aspects of the right to health: (a) examples of supportive constitutional text from selected countries; (b) abuse of the judicial process by commercial interests
Outline of the session
07.45 - 07.50Introduction (Hans V. Hogerzeil).
07.50 - 08.05Access to Essential Medicines as Part of the Right to Health in National Constitutions of 186 Countries (Hans V. Hogerzeil)
08.05 - 08.25Invited comments (5 minutes each):
Dr Hussain Al-Ghezairy: The right to health in the light of the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, Syria, Yemen)
Mércia Pandolfo Provin: Lawsuits for the Supply of Essential Medicines in Brazil: useful mechanism for the poor?
Vera Lucia Edais Pepe: Lawsuits for the Supply of Essential Medicines in Brazil: abuse of the judicial system?
08.25 - 08.45General discussion, conclusions
Access to Essential Medicines as Part of the Right to Health in National Constitutions of 186 Countries
1Faculty of Exact and Life Sciences, Free University, Amsterdam, Netherlands; 2World Health Organization, Switzerland
Problem statement: Constitutional guarantee of access to essential medicines has been identified as an important indicator of government commitment to the progressive realization of the highest attainable standard of health (in short, “the right to health”). The objective of this study was to identify national constitutions that include a reference to access to essential medical goods and services and to identify good examples of constitutional text that can be used as a model for other countries.
Methods: From an inventory of constitutional texts from WHO member states, relevant articles were selected and assessed for the application of health and human rights principles.
Results: Health rights were mentioned in 135 (73%) of 186 national constitutions studied, while 95 (51%) mention the right to access to health facilities, goods, and services. Only four (2%) constitutions specifically mention access to essential medicines as part of the right to health. In Panama “. . . the State is primarily obligated to develop the following activities [. . .] supply medicines to all the people.” In the Philippines, “The State shall . . . endeavour to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all people at affordable cost.” In the Syrian Arab Republic, “The state protects the citizens’ health and provides them with the means of protection, treatment, and medication,” and in Mexico, “[women] are entitled to medical and obstetrical attention, medicines, nursing aid, and infant care services. Members of a worker’s family shall be entitled to medical attention and medicines, in those cases and in the proportions specified by law.” The constitution of South Africa can serve as a model text to reflect the principle of progressive realization.
Conclusion: Many constitutions do not include any reference to the right to health, and over half do not refer to universal access to health facilities, goods and services. The examples of existing text on access to essential goods and services, principles of equity and non-discrimination, focus on poor and disadvantaged groups and the need for national medicine policies that are identified in this study can serve as a model for policy makers, legislators and advocacy groups when seeking to align their constitutional aspirations with modern principles of universal access to health facilities, goods and services as part of the progressive realization of the right to health.
Funding source: WHO