Medicines

Access to essential medicines as part of the right to health

Opening text of the Constitution of WHO (1946)

Access to essential medicines as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health ("the right to health") is well-founded in international law. The right to health first emerged as a social right in the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution (1946)* and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)*. The binding International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966* details the progressive realization of the right to health through four concrete steps, including access to health facilities, goods and services.

The authoritative General Comment 14 (2000)* further applies the principles of accessibility, availability, appropriateness and assured quality to goods and services, which include essential medicines "as defined by the WHO Action Programme on Essential Drugs".

Access to medical products and technologies as part of the right to health recognized in countries constitutions or national legislation is the first country progress indicator for Strategic Objective 11 (Improved access, quality and use of medical products and technologies) of the WHO Medium Term Strategic Plan for 2008-2013*.

WHO has done several studies on national constitutional commitments and legal enforcement of access to essential medicines as part of the right to health

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