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Access to vaccines and medicines

OHCHR and the right to health

Access to vaccines, medicines and other health products is disturbingly uneven in many places, with poorer health outcomes for women and girls, national, ethnic, religious, racial and linguistic minorities, indigenous populations, persons living in poverty, LGBTI people, persons with disabilities, migrants, particularly undocumented migrants, stateless persons, and others experiencing marginalisation. Improving such access could save millions of lives every year.

The issue of vaccine equity and access to medicines is a fundamental component of the full realization of the right to health. Vaccines and medicines must not only be produced and made available; they must also be accessible to all persons.

Sustainable Development Goal 3 aspires to ensure health and well-being for all, including a bold commitment to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases by 2030. It also aims to achieve universal health coverage (UCH), and to provide access to safe and effective medicines and vaccines for all. Advocating for access to vaccines and medicines and ensuring a human rights-based approach is an essential part of this process.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of affordable, timely, equitable and universal access to vaccines to control the pandemic. Though the world had been profoundly fortunate to have had effective COVID-19 vaccines developed at an unprecedented pace, the failure to ensure equitable, affordable, fair, safe, timely and universal access to these vaccines had a direct impact on the right to life and the right to the highest attainable standard of health of millions of people and resulted in many preventable hospitalizations, illnesses and deaths.

OHCHR’s work in the context of the pandemic focuses on the human rights implications of the lack of affordable, timely, equitable and universal access and distribution of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines and the deepening inequalities between States, including the related vulnerabilities and challenges and the impact on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

OHCHR continues to monitor the developments in the area of access to vaccines and medicines. Within the context of partnerships with our stakeholders, the Office provides guidance on implementing a human rights-based approach to health, focusing attention on left behind populations and groups, and seeking to integrate a human rights-based understanding of concepts such as universal health coverage.

Reports and consultations

Expert workshop on key challenges and new developments in ensuring access to medicines, vaccines and other health products – 16 February 2024

Human Rights Council resolution 50/13, requested the High Commissioner to organize an expert workshop on key challenges and new developments in ensuring access to medicines, vaccines and other health products in the context of the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. View event page

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - 15 May 2023

The report (E/2023/74) Economic, social and cultural rights - submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 48/141, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights outlines challenges in relation to access to medicines that arise in the existing system for pharmaceutical innovation, its associated business models and current pricing practices. The prohibitive cost of medicines in poor and wealthy countries alike is a major reason why 2 billion persons lack access to the medicines that they need and thousands of preventable deaths occur every day, raising substantial human rights concerns. The High Commissioner emphasizes that, whereas pricing based on a reasonable rate of return would save thousands of lives, maximizing investor return at all costs demonstrates a systematic lack of compliance with human rights law by Governments and failure by business enterprises to meet their responsibility to respect human rights. It urges State action to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and new business models that reconcile the fiduciary responsibilities of pharmaceutical companies with their human rights responsibilities. View report

Compendium of good practices on access to medicines, vaccines and other health products in the context of the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2023)

This compendium of good practices,  submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 50/13, contains an overview of good practices and solution pathways on access to medicines, vaccines and other health products, including policies and interventions that can contribute to ensuring access to these essential health products. This compendium is the first report of a trilogy and it will be complemented by an analytical study on key challenges to be submitted at the fifty-sixth session, and in 2025, at the fifty-ninth session of the Council, the High Commissioner is to present a comprehensive study – incl. actionable recommendations- on access to medicines, vaccines and other health products.

The report (A/HRC/53/50) concludes that ensuring the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of medicines, vaccines and other health products requires a collaborative effort by governments, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers, and international organizations. Good practices include access-oriented management of intellectual property rights, strong regulatory frameworks, price regulation, and investment in research and development of new medicines and vaccines, including through public-private partnerships, policies and measures that encourage the production of generic medicines as well as innovative models for procurement and distribution. View report page

Expert workshop on good practices in ensuring access to medicines, vaccines and other health products – 14 February 2023

Human Rights Council resolution 50/13, requested the High Commissioner to organize an expert workshop on good practices in ensuring access to medicines, vaccines and other health products in the context of the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. View event page

Report of the High Commissioner COVID-19 vaccines – good practices and key challenges (2023)

This report A/HRC/52/56 by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights considers the human rights implications of and good practices and key challenges in affordable, timely, equitable and universal access to and distribution of quality, safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 vaccines and the impact on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. View report page

Report of the High Commissioner on COVID-19 vaccines (2022)

This report A/HRC/49/35 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights considers the human rights implications of the lack of affordable, timely, equitable and universal access and distribution of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines and of the deepening inequalities between States, highlighting that vaccine delays not only have grave health consequences, but also have other profound human rights implications. View report page

Summary of the seminar on access to medicines and vaccines (2022)

This report A/HRC/49/34 contains a summary of the discussions at a full-day intersessional seminar, held on 8 December 2021. The seminar was focused on good practices, key challenges and new developments in the area of access to medicines and vaccines as one of the fundamental dimensions of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. View summary

Panel discussion on equitable and universal access for all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (2022)

This panel discussion focused on the human rights implications of the lack of affordable, timely, equitable and universal access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the deepening inequalities between States. It examined obstacles to universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, and promising practices and effective strategies adopted by States and other stakeholders in addressing them as well as the challenges of growing inequalities and divergent recoveries from the pandemic. View event page 

Virtual seminar on access to medicines and vaccines, 8 December 2021

Human Rights Council resolution 41/10, requested the High Commissioner to organize an full-day intersessional seminar on good practices, key challenges and new developments relevant to access to medicines and vaccines as one of the fundamental elements of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. View event page

Central role of the State in responding to pandemics and other health emergencies (2021)

This report (A/HRC/47/23) addresses the central role of the State during pandemics and other health emergencies is to mount a robust health response while upholding human rights. This involves respecting, protecting and fulfilling economic, social and cultural rights, paying particular attention to universal health coverage and universal social protection as fixed pillars in all response, preparedness and recovery efforts. At the same time, it also requires upholding civil andpolitical rights such as the rights to participate in public affairs, freedom of expression and freedom of association. View report page

 

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