Human Rights Go Hand In Hand With IP In Making Health Systems Work, UN Forum Hears 03/10/2017 by Peter Kenny for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Innovation is vital for the development of medicines, but innovation without proper access to them is pointless, Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of World Trade Organization has said. Several other agency heads spoke at the same event, where World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed the importance of universal health coverage. Tedros Adhanom and Michel Sidibé speak at the UN Social Forum They were speaking at opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council Social Forum taking place from 2-4 October at the UN Palais des Nations. Each year the forum brings together UN agencies, international organisations and non-governmental organisations. Its theme is “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of the HIV Epidemic and Other Communicable Diseases and Epidemics.” “I know that the perception among some will be that the WTO is – at best – an observer in this conversation; or – at worst – that global trade rules put commercial interests above health needs,” said Azevêdo. “I believe the WTO has a constructive role to play.” The World Health Organization emphasises that enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right of all human beings, he noted. “I want to take this opportunity to explain how the World Trade Organization contributes to realizing that right,” said Azevêdo. Historically a lot of attention at the WTO had been paid to the agreement on trade related to intellectual property right, “under the so-called TRIPS agreement.” TRIPS is the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. ‘TRIPS the Focus of Human Rights Discussion’ The WTO head said that the TRIPS agreement has long been the focus of human rights discussions. Still, Azevêdo said the “objective is to provide both innovation and the transfer and dissemination of new technologies,” for the benefit of communities at large. “Innovation is vital and we need it constantly, but innovation without proper access to medicines is pointless,” he said, noting WTO trade facilitation and keeping tariffs low can help keep medical costs down in developing countries. “There is a delicate balance between access and innovation and the WTO has done much to get access to much-needed medicines,” he said. “The WTO provides a legal framework for members to cut tariffs on medicines in a non-discriminatory way. In fact,” Azevêdo said, “a number of members have agreed to eliminate such tariffs entirely.” He was not suggesting that these trade-related measures are sufficient in themselves, or that they offer an alternative to other urgently needed interventions and initiatives. But he insisted that trade can and must play its part, at the policy level and in practice. Close Cooperation with WHO and WIPO “Our close cooperation with WHO and WIPO is essential here,” he said, referring also to the World Intellectual Property Organization. “So too is our cooperation with the wider UN family towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.” At the same forum, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that universal health coverage enables all of humanity to obtain the health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardship. “Universal health coverage doesn’t just improve health. It reduces poverty, creates jobs, drives inclusive economic growth, promotes gender equality and protects people against epidemics – including HIV,” Tedros said. The achievement of universal health coverage means primary care that provides integrated services for the whole of a person’s health needs, rather than fragmented services for individual diseases. “It means ensuring the right number of health workers, with the right skills, in the right places,” he said. “It means ensuring an adequate supply of medicines and other commodities, at the right price. It means strengthening data systems so that we have an accurate picture of disease trends. It means making sure services are free at the point of delivery, and that the system is financially sustainable.” Services Built Around Needs of the People “And it means providing services that are built around the needs of people, rather than the needs of providers” added Tedros. A touching account came from Loyce Maturu, a member of the Steering Committee of the Y+ Global Network of Young People Living with HIV in Zimbabwe who spoke about how access to HIV drugs rescued her life. “In 2000, when I was just 10 years old, I lost my mother and brother to AIDS related illnesses,” she said. “In 2004 I started to get ill and started coughing a lot. I was found to have TB and HIV. After that I cried and lost my hope for the future. But here today I am looking healthy and beautiful,” she said confidently to applause. “This is all because of the fight against HIV and AIDS.” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé noted in his address, “You cannot talk about society without having them [the people] with us.” He elaborated how people over 40 years in the fight against HIV and AIDS came together – “a few gay people at first – and said no to silence” brought by the stigma from the disease. This raised the momentum which brought about a “people-centred approach in the global health programme.” The same momentum, he said, helped make the price of medicines affordable. In many countries of the world, however, people living with HIV and AIDS still face discrimination, Sidibé rued. So, he said a report UNAIDS is launching is now confronting discrimination in health care which is very important to tackle. He also said one in eight people with HIV face discrimination. The forum was opened by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein who noted the saying that outbreaks of disease are inevitable but pandemics are man-made. “They can be managed and curtailed, or prevented. But this takes much more than a technical, scientific, medical – or even financial – effort,” said Zeid. He noted the slow work of building public health systems that are “equitable and accessible; of inspiring confidence in medical information, and the openness and trust that epidemiology requires.” There is also the long process of educating excellent medical professionals, and shaping empowered communities as essential factors in building resistance to epidemics, and all of them are grounded in respect for human rights, said Zeid. He said few recent crises had more clearly illustrated the indivisibility and interrelatedness of human rights than the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa between December 2013 and April 2016. 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