According to the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines, people in countries of all income levels are having to forgo life-saving medications because of cost. The Internet community can help consumers achieve online access to safe and affordable medication – but not if they follow the playbook of the global pharmaceutical industry. The Internet community’s approach should reflect the highest standards of aspirational law, as embraced by the UN Human Rights Council, which views access to affordable medication as a human right. The panel will present the case for an Internet governance framework that reflects these aspirations.
In the U.S, where tens of millions of patients are not filling prescriptions due to cost, the international online marketplace is a lifeline of affordable medication. Through the efforts of activists and health professionals in London, online access to affordable, imported medication, emtricitabine/tenofovir, has lowered HIV infection in at-risk communities by 40%. The Internet is a threat to the global pharmaceutical industry’s prized marketplace, the U.S., where drug prices are often many times higher than other countries. The panel details how the industry, sometimes working with the U.S. government, seeks to limit online sales of medication to the disadvantage of consumers. Their efforts include lobbying ICANN, shutting down and locking domains, preventing payment processors from facilitating transactions, censorship, and threatening third party intermediaries with prosecution to prevent the sale of lower cost and legitimate medications. In promoting online access to affordable medication, the Internet community must address the threat posed by rogue online pharmacies. The panel will identify protocols for helping the Internet community determine which online pharmacies are selling legitimate medications through safe pharmacy practices and which ones are clearly rogue actors.
A workshop will follow the panel with the goal of developing a code of ethics, informed by the Manilla Principles and UN Guiding Principles, for regulating medication sales on the Internet. The code will focus on public health considerations in the context of a medicines access crisis caused by high drug prices.