How to improve equitable access to medicines for non-communicable diseases (NCDs)? GHLG comments on WHO’s discussion paper

Equitable access to medicines to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and diabetes, is a major public health challenge in need of a global response. In August 2015, GHLG submitted comments to the WHO’s consultation on its discussion paper Essential medicines and basic health technologies for non-communicable diseases: towards a set of actions to improve equitable access in Member States. Our response presents key findings to date as strategies on legal approaches to promote access to essential medicines, including those for NCDs, such as:

The rational selection of medicines as a legal requirement: A national essential medicines list is a valuable tool to promote the rational use of medicines while also achieving the greatest public health impact for the least cost. Creating a legal obligation in domestic law to maintain an EML may be an effective way of giving effect to States’ core obligation to provide essential medicines defined by the WHO and to support access in the national context. GHLG provided model legal text identified in our pilot study of 14 countries in our Essential Laws for Medicines Access project.


Reliable health & supply systems for access to essential pain treatment: In many low- and middle-income countries, the availability and accessibility of opioid analgesics, often used to treat pain, conform human rights law could conflict with international drug control standards, whereas the quality and cultural appropriateness of medicines could conflict with international standardisation guidelines. There is a certain degree of urgency in low- and middle-income countries that increasingly suffer from the threat of NCDs, and where curative care is often unavailable, leaving palliative treatment, which heavily relies on the use of opioid analgesics, as the only viable therapeutic option. GHLG drew on its research of approaches taken at the national level.


Constitutional commitments to essential medicines to enhance advocacy efforts: A guarantee of access to essential medicines in national constitutions may create a supportive environment for advocacy efforts by creating a rights-based framework to guide the implementation of policy and programmes. In some countries, constitutional health rights are also enforceable before domestic courts. Results from GHLG’s global survey of constitutional language for access to medicines from our project Constitutional Health Commitments.

Next steps: Legal & policy responses to NCDs in 2016 GHLG Summer School

Besides our response to the WHO’s consultation, GHLG continues to follow the development of legal and policy responses to NCDs. We’ll tackle access to medicines for NCDs, and the link between NCDs and the regulation of tobacco and food in our July 2016 summer school NCDs & the law: A human rights response to the global health crisis.

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