Are drug companies living up to their human rights responsibilities?

September 28, 2010 — How well are drug companies allowing patients access to medicines and carrying out other human rights responsibilities spelled out two years ago in a report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health? More assessment is needed, write Sofia Gruskin and Zyde Raad of HSPH’s Program on International Health and Human Rights. “The PLoS Medicine Debate” article is the first of three opinion pieces published September 28, 2010, in PLoS Medicine, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science.

The “Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in relation to Access to Medicines,” submitted to the UN General Assembly in August 2008, calls for transparency, management, monitoring and accountability, pricing, and ethical marketing, and against lobbying for more protection in intellectual property laws, applying for patents for trivial modifications of existing medicines, inappropriate drug promotion, and excessive pricing.

Gruskin and Raad recommend a three-tiered assessment to determine the impact of the UN guidelines on the industry. The authors recommend that the human rights responsibilities of drug companies be assessed using top-down, bottom-up and horizontal approaches. In the top-down approach, the authors recommend companies be evaluated on whether they are preventing human rights violations in states where they operate. The companies also should be assessed on whether they are helping those states ensure access to essential medicines and that the companies comply with drug safety and quality regulations to minimize negative health impacts of intellectual property protections. The bottom-up approach includes the governance of public–private partnerships involving drug companies and civil society organizations, and assessing their impact on human rights and access to essential medicines. Working horizontally would include examining efforts to bring together stakeholders in efforts like the UN Global Compact to discuss issues surrounding access to essential medicines.

Link to PLoS article

More information

Program on International Health and Human Rights

Department of Global Health and Population