On 8 and 9 October 2015 several GHLG members participated in a symposium on ‘Equitable access to controlled medicine: between drug control and human rights in post-market access in low- and middle income countries’ (co-organized by Marie Elske Gispen, Utrecht University). Marie Elske presented the preliminary conclusions of her Ph.D. research on access to controlled medicines at this meeting. GHLG fellows Brigit Toebes and Hans Hogerzeil commented on her work from a legal and global health perspective respectively. Brigit mainly touched upon the question whether or not the normative framework of the right to health is sufficiently equipped to further access to medicine provision. Hans particularly reflected on the progress, or lack thereof, made so far in the area of access to (controlled) medicines. GHLG fellow Katrina Perehudoff joined on the second day of the symposium as participant.
The conference was a follow-up to the expert meeting of 2012 organised by Utrecht University which focussed on ‘Human Rights and International Drug Control: Status quo, challenges, and interdisciplinary perspective’. The conference was divided in four sessions which all had a multi-disciplinary approach. After an introduction to the topic in the first session, the second session elaborated on international, regional and local perspectives. The third session addressed the mandated to advance access to controlled medicines under international law. Amongst others, representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the World Health Organisation, the International Narcotics Control Board, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, elaborated on their mandate with regard to the access to controlled medicines, which gave a unique insight in how the various UN related bodies interpret their mandate on the very same matter; the provision of controlled medicines. The final session focussed on the advancement of the research agenda informed by theoretical as well as more applied perspectives.
Discussions revealed, amongst others, that although agreeing on a human right to access pain treatment some participants disputed the status of human rights in relation to the international drug control treaties. Moreover, language and framing of the terms medicines and drugs was found to be of key importance to breaching ongoing stigma and understanding the particular complexity of controlled medicine provision. Controlled medicines were found to be a strong learning case for general access to medicines research and for discussions on the interplay between various international legal systems. Because of the intricate nature of the discussion on access to controlled medicines the seminar did not end with one general conclusion. Drawing on the multidisciplinary discussion, a research agenda was drafted during the last session defining ‘key priorities for future research.’
The symposium was a joint effort with Durham University, sponsored and hosted by the Brocher Foundation and co-sponsored by the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board.