By Helen Clark

For large segments of our societies in low, middle and high income countries alike, access to health care and modern medicine remains a major challenge. Millions of people continue to die each year from communicable and infectious diseases such as HIV, TB and malaria. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer and cardiovascular disease, are becoming more prevalent, accounting for more than 60 per cent of the more than 50 million deaths worldwide.

Despite the progress that has been made in tackling a number of major global health challenges over the past three decades, so many people have been left behind. Disease and poor health are still big barriers to social and economic development in many countries, and our world has yet to witness truly inclusive and equitable development.

In the absence of universal healthcare in many countries, most healthcare-related expenses are paid out-of-pocket and are largely unaffordable for governments, communities, families and individuals.

For example, in the Philippines, purchasing a medicine to treat cardiovascular disease would push an additional 22 per cent of the population below the poverty line of US$1.25 per day.   

At present, most research and development for medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and related health technologies is based on financial potential rather than the needs of the poorest and most marginalized communities. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people highlights how the lack of incentives for research and development resulted in the absence of effective health technologies available to respond to the outbreak. The Ebola outbreak also underscores the importance of ensuring that when health technologies become available they are available, affordable and accessible.

Recognizing this growing need to expand access to affordable medicines, diagnostics vaccines and health technologies, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. The Panel is expected to make recommendations on how to continue to promote investments in research, development, innovation and to increase access to medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and related health technologies, so as to support the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, ensuring the health and wellbeing of all.

The widest availability of medicines, diagnostics and vaccines is so important for achieving the health SDG and the SDGs in general. While the availability of health technologies for some diseases has increased in recent years, many medicines needed to treat diseases from HIV, to cancer or dengue remain largely unavailable or inaccessible for many.

The distinguished 16-person panel – which includes Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana, and Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland – brings expert knowledge and understanding of the broad range of trade, public health, human rights and legal issues associated with innovation of health technologies and access to treatment.

In conducting its work the High-Level Panel issued a call for contributions on 21 December 2015 to obtain ideas, solutions and proposals from governments, industry, academia, experts, stakeholders and patient groups. The deadline for contributions is 18 February 2016, 11:oo pm EST.  

Shortlisted contributions will be invited to participate in one of two hearings where they will share their contributions with the Panel. Stakeholders and interested groups will also have the opportunity to share their feedback on the shortlisted contributions as part of the hearings.

All contributions and the inputs received through the consultation process will be considered by the Panel in developing their findings and recommendations, to be delivered to the UN Secretary-General, in June 2016.

UNDP, in collaboration with UNAIDS, serves as the Secretariat for the High-Level Panel.  

Organisations and interested stakeholders are invited to review the Call for Contributions and submit contributions for consideration by the High-Level Panel through www.unsgaccessmeds.org.


Helen Clark is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)