Last week we attended the third High Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD) in New York during the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations. The meeting examined global and national progress – after the 2011 and 2014 Meetings – and the new challenges in the fight against these diseases (cardiovascular, respiratory, cancer and diabetes diseases) that are responsible for 71% of deaths around the world and they cause some 41 million deaths per year, including the 15 million people who die prematurely (between 35 and 69 years).
The signed Political Declaration resulting from this meeting assumes and recognizes that, for now, actions for the prevention and control of these diseases are insufficient to achieve objective 3.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals of ‘reducing premature mortality by one third. for noncommunicable diseases’ by 2030 through the prevention and treatment and promotion of mental health and well-being.
From Salud por Derecho we believe that one of the fundamental aspects for the treatment of these diseases should be fair and affordable access to effective and safe medicines. Unfortunately, the reality is that the pharmaceutical industry sets increasingly high prices for its medicines. Abusive prices, usually set arbitrarily and very little transparent.
An example of what happened in recent times with cancer drugs: prices for treatments have doubled in 10 years and some of the treatments available are totally unaffordable for the vast majority of public health systems and, of course, , for patients. In the USA, for example, two new treatments have come on the market with prices that exceed 400,000 euros.
Although the Political Declaration includes the promotion of greater access to safe, affordable, effective and quality medicines, the truth is that only a few countries – Brazil and India, and Spain very briefly – have wanted to speak during their interventions on this problem of vital importance in the fight against these diseases.
Precisely, one of the points that generated the greatest controversy for the agreement in the Political Declaration was the paragraph -finally included- that reaffirms the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement, which allows the right of Member States to protect public health above intellectual property rights. One way to do this, for example, is through compulsory licenses that allow generic products to be produced at lower prices than those under patent.
It is quite significant that two High Level Meetings (on the 26th the first High Level Meeting on tuberculosis took place) took place at the same time, and that both have included in their statements such important elements as access to medicines, affordability of these or the Doha safeguards, although it is equally significant that all these negotiations have not been free of difficulties and obstacles.
The Political Declaration is, without doubt, a step forward because it incorporates these aspects. However, we are concerned about the lack of mention of the problem of rising prices for medicines, which jeopardize the sustainability of health systems throughout the world; or the lack of momentum of transparency measures, currently nonexistent, to know what the real costs of drug R & D are.
From Salud por Derecho we recognize (as the Declaration does) the main role and responsibility that governments have at all levels to respond to the needs of these diseases and those who suffer them. It is fundamental to work on the basis of the right of each and every person to physical and mental health, as a fundamental part of their human rights, and, consequently, to facilitate the access of people to strong and sustainable national health systems , and affordable, safe, and effective medicines.