UNHRC adopts access to medicines resolution


By HHR editorial assistant Krista Oehlke

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on access to medicines (A/HRC/23/L.10/Rev.1) on June 14. The resolution was adopted by 31 in favor, none against, and 16 abstentions, and follows Special Rapporteur Anand Grover’s May 27 report analyzing existing international challenges toward realizing access to medicines within a right to health framework. The report detailed key international and national determinants of access, calling for increased focus on “local production of medicines, price regulations, medicines lists, procurement, distribution, rational and appropriate use and quality of medicines.” It demanded a shift from “the dominant market-oriented paradigm,” reinstating access to medications as essential to the enjoyment of the right to health.

The report made several fundamental recommendations, advising advancement of global access to medications by, for example, proposing transparency of data and increased South-South cooperation. Following a 2011 UNHRC resolution on access to medicines, the language of the current report reinvigorates the issue of access to medicines by extending “essential medicines” to cover “all medicines” and linking local production and universal coverage with the right to health.

Notably, the EU and US called for a vote, and according to a developing country delegate, led the abstention.1 Speaking on behalf of the United States in a general comment, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain said that achieving greater access to medicines is “multi-faceted” and best served by addressing specific barriers inherent within individual countries: “States have to prioritize the access goal and promote public health policies in a manner best suited for their circumstances and consistent with their human rights and other international obligations.”

In response to the proposal’s emphasis on transparency of data, intellectual property, and trade, Chamberlain emphasized that realizing better access to medicines was better solved by addressing internal barriers such as “inappropriate tax and tariff policies, insufficient health systems, inadequate access to financing, or lack of essential medicines procurement systems in place to support health delivery, services, and access.” The US also disagreed with the resolution’s promotion of local production, suggesting that local production may not actually increase access or affordability as suggested.

The EU questioned the need for the resolution itself and suggested that the UNHRC was not well positioned to address “specialized technical issues” on health, trade, and intellectual property.1


1. Third World Network, “Access to medicines resolution adopted,” Third World Network Info Service on Health Issues (July 2013). Available at: http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/health.info/2013/health130704.htm.

Related articles:

The human right to medicines by Paul Hunt and Rajat Khosla

Respecting the right to access to medicines: Implications of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for the pharmaceutical industry by Suerie Moon

Photo by DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)]