25 October 2007Noting that nearly two billion people worldwide lack access to essential medicines, a United Nations independent expert on health today introduced into the General Assembly draft human rights guidelines for pharmaceutical companies to expand that reach. Paul Hunt, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, told the Assembly’s third committee that the guidelines are designed to help both the companies and those monitoring their activities.Using non-binding language, the 48 guidelines – which are being circulated for comment until the end of the year – deal with specific issues regarding access to medicines, such as pricing, ethical marketing, clinical trials, corruption, and research and development for neglected diseases.Professor Hunt said he expected to finalize the guidelines for release next year.“I have tried to be practical and constructive,” he said, stressing that the draft does not suggest that pharmaceutical companies are legally bound by international human rights law.An estimated two billion people worldwide, but overwhelmingly in developing countries, do not have access to essential medicines, Professor Hunt said in a press statement that was also released today.“Improving access to existing medicines could save 10 million lives each year. Access to medicines is characterized by profound global inequality: 15 per cent of the world’s population consumes over 90 per cent of the world’s pharmaceuticals.”Although individual States have the main responsibility for expanding access to medicines, he said that pharmaceutical companies also have a profound impact, good and bad, on this process.“It is time to identify what pharmaceutical companies should do to help realize the human right to medicine. How can we expect pharmaceutical companies to respect human rights if we fail to explain what they are expected to do?”In his statement to the Assembly committee, Professor Hunt also detailed a new international initiative to try to reduce maternal mortality. Every year more than 500,000 women die in childbirth or from complications resulting from a pregnancy, and most of these deaths are preventable through simple and inexpensive interventions.The Special Rapporteur said the initiative, which was formally launched last week, aims to use human rights to strengthen existing efforts to reduce maternal mortality and to improve the performance of health-care systems in poor countries. It is also designed to encourage maternal health workers to use human rights analysis, advocacy and networks to further their goals.Professor Hunt proposed that the Human Rights Council convene a special session focused on maternal mortality, inviting key UN agencies and Member States to share their insights and expertise.“This would be a unique opportunity for the Council to tell the world that preventable maternal mortality is a human rights issue of enormous gravity.”He added that the Indian Government has asked him to undertake a formal visit next month to look at the issue.
Read more on UN rights expert unveils draft guidelines for drug companies on vital medicines