March 11

Drug Policy & Human Rights Take Center Stage This Spring

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By Katherine Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Senior Director for Advocacy and Partnerships

Every spring, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) holds its regular session in Vienna to discuss the progress, or lack thereof, of national and international cooperation to prevent the harmful use of illicit drugs and to improve availability of the internationally controlled essential medicines listed in the schedules of drug control conventions. We have been working for more than a decade with partners such as UICC (Union for International Cancer Control), IDPC (International Drug Policy Consortium), and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs to draw attention to the issue of unavailability of opioid analgesics in more than 85% of the world. At long last, it is a permanent agenda item for CND: many more member states than before are reporting on challenges and progress made in this domain.

IAHPC side event at the CND

IAHPC will host a hybrid side event sponsored by the Kingdom of Belgium on Monday, March 18 at 9:10 am (CET) focusing on support for governments that take the CND Chair’s Pledge4Action to improve availability of controlled medicines. You can join in person if you plan to come to Vienna, or virtually if you are up at that time. Scan the link on the flyer to join. No registration necessary. I will share a link to the recording in my next advocacy report. 

Ambassador Philbert Johnson of Ghana, the 2024 CND chair, proposed the Pledge4Action initiative to encourage implementation of the many rhetorical commitments member states have made on the challenges of the global  Ministerial Declaration on the World Drug Problem. [Read more about the Midterm Review of the Ministerial Declaration and the Pledge.] We know of several countries taking the pledge to improve availability of controlled medicines, but we are not allowed to disclose their identities until the public announcement during the High-Level Segment of the current session. Stay tuned! And please share our side event flyer with your networks. You can read our written submissions to the High Level and regular CND segments on the Advocacy Page of our website. Professor Julia Downing and I will be speaking at this other high level side event on March 14. You can join on Zoom; no registration necessary.

Learn to write a simple policy brief

Module 6 of the IAHPC Advocacy Course, where I describe how to write a simple policy brief, has been released for our members. Check it out! I will share more information about the need for palliative care association policy briefs in the lead-up to the World Health Assembly in April.  

An OHCHR first: controlled medicines availability as a stand-alone topic

I had the great privilege last month of serving on a virtual panel on “Key Challenges in Ensuring Access to Medicines, Vaccines, and Other Health Products,” organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The event also featured remarks by Paul Hunt, former Chief Human Rights Commissioner at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health (2002-2008); Muluka-Anne Miti-Drummond, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with Albinism; and Nirmalya Syam, Senior Programme Officer at South Centre in Geneva. As far as I know, it was the first time that availability of controlled medicines for palliative care has been addressed as a topic in its own right in a meeting of the OHCHR. Read more information about the event and links to the panelists’ statements (including mine).

Issues in Burkina Faso & Argentina presented

Panelist presentations were followed by an interactive discussion with member states and representatives of civil society organizations who joined online. IAHPC members Dr. Eric Somé from Burkina Faso and Dr. Sofia Bunge from Argentina took the virtual floor to describe issues around availability of controlled medicines for palliative care in their countries. An analytical study on the key challenges discussed at the meeting will be presented to the Human Rights Council, with a view to presenting a comprehensive report including new developments, at its 56th session. Stay tuned!

IAHPC contributes to enjoyment of all human rights by older persons report

In response to the Independent Expert’s (Dr. Claudia Mahler’s) call for inputs on legal capacity and informed consent of older persons, I prepared a submission on the tense relationship between the ethics of the right to informed consent, and its practice regarding older persons with palliative care needs, especially those with dementia, in jurisdictions where assisted dying practices are legalized. Dr. Mahler’s report will be presented at the 57th session of the Human Rights Council. You can read our submission here

An invitation to IAHPC members

I will also submit a report to the 14th Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing at the UN in New York on one of the discussion areas pertaining to the right to health. I invite IAHPC members to serve on the IAHPC delegation to that meeting, which will be held in May. Let me know as soon as possible so that we can prepare. It’s an unforgettable learning experience, according to Dr. Kristin Forner, our delegate last year! 


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