Today is Human Rights Day, a day commemorating the United Nations’ 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Three years after World War II ended, in the wake of genocide, unprecedented military, deadly armed conflict, and mass deprivation on a global scale, the UN declared that all people in the world have rights that defend the dignity of humankind. Freedom of religion, speech, the right to assemble and own property, protection from discrimination or persecution are all central to human rights. Everyone has these rights “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

These rights are applicable to Americans who can’t afford prescription drugs domestically because the prices are too high. Human rights include access to safe and affordable medicines, such as through importation of a more affordable drug ordered over the Internet.

In 2017, a group of activists, policy professionals, lawyers, and doctors came together in Brussels at the RightsCon conference to draft the Brussels Principles on the Sale of Medicines Over the Internet. Those principles were refined at RightsCon Toronto in 2018. The aspirational document supports the idea that principles of human rights should definitely apply to how we address access to medicine. Key parts of the document that apply include:

Recognizing that “The Internet has served as a disruptive force to traditional industry in the practice of pharmacy and trade in pharmaceutical products, allowing for the international sale of medical products to patients with a prescription.”

Affirming that in relation to the sale of medical products ordered for personal use over the Internet, “Access to affordable medical products is a fundamental component of the right to health”

How can we tie this to the UDHR? It states in Article 25:

“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”

Just three years ago, the UN Human Rights Council unequivocally declared that “Access to essential medicines is a fundamental element of the right to health”

Achieving universal access to essential medicines is also a part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 3.8. Last year, I took the opportunity to respond to a request for public comments on this issue from the World Health Organization:

In support of SDG 3.8, the Internet, via international online pharmacies, has helped tens of millions of Americans obtain medicines from pharmacies in other countries.[v] In many of those cases, patients would otherwise not be able to obtain a prescribed medicine because price often determines access.[vi] In recognizing that price is an obstacle to access to medicines, Global Health Organizations can play a more constructive, forward-thinking role by promoting an open Internet through which regulated medicines can be purchased across borders both safely and at lower cost.

Let me put this into a concrete, real-world scenario. Let’s say a sick person in the U.S. can’t afford a prescription drug that they need to get better. They buy it online at a price they can afford, submitting a valid prescription from their doctor to a foreign licensed pharmacy, one that is lawfully permitted to ship it to that patient. It’s the exact same drug sold here. The prescription drug order import is refused and destroyed by the U.S. FDA because its label is not the one required for the sale of that drug in the U.S. The government has deprived that person of access to healthcare. Are their human rights being violated?  While most personal imports can be successfully received, the FDA does take away people’s prescription drugs as described.

See: FDA Destroys Elizabeth’s Personal Drug Import

As we honor human rights today and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our national and global health imperative is the distribution and administration of a vaccine to protect us all from Covid-19.

I’m dedicated to a future where we win the fight to make sure all people have the right to obtain the medicine they need to protect their health and save lives.  

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