Researcher works at a lab bench

Do Pharmaceutical Patents Generate Unique Global Health Duties?

By Govind Persad

Imagine a Harvard MBA graduate trying to decide between jobs at Pfizer and at Snapchat. Both are immensely wealthy firms. Many of Pfizer’s products benefit global health. Snapchat’s are at best neutral and may even harm health. Yet many see Pfizer as distinctively culpable for global health deficits. These arguments often depend on the fact that Pfizer holds intellectual property (IP) in pharmaceuticals, whereas Snapchat holds cash and non-pharmaceutical IP.

In a recent paper in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics, Examining Pharmaceutical Exceptionalism: Intellectual Property, Practical Expediency, and Global Health, I argue for two conclusions:

  1.  Holders of pharmaceutical IP (like Pfizer) aren’t uniquely culpable for global health deficits. Other actors (like Snapchat) who fail to use available resources–including ordinary property and non-pharmaceutical IP–to address health deficits, or who affirmatively cause health deficits, also bear responsibility.
  2. But laws requiring pharmaceutical IP holders, but not others, to address global health deficits are nevertheless justifiable. Legal responsibility needn’t perfectly mirror moral responsibility.

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Ambassador-at-Large Deborah Birx giving a speech from a podium with an American flag and PEPFAR banner in the background

One of the Biggest Public Health Initiatives in History: PEPFAR and HIV

By Daniel Aaron

In October, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a conference of world-leading experts in HIV/AIDS to discuss one of the biggest public health successes in history: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR was launched in 2003 in response to a burgeoning global epidemic of HIV. The program offered $2 billion annually, rising to about $7 billion in 2019, to surveil, diagnose, treat, and reduce transmission of HIV around the world.

PEPFAR prevented what could have become an exponentially growing epidemic. It is estimated to have saved more than 17 million lives and avoided millions of new HIV infections. As a result, the speakers at the conference were quick to extol the virtues of the program. Professor Ashish Jha called it an “unmitigated success”; Professor Marc C. Elliott named it a “historic effort”; Dr. Ingrid Katz described PEPFAR as “nothing short of miraculous.”

However, several undercurrents within the conference, as well as more explicit points made by several panelists, suggested the importance of enlarging the discussion beyond PEPFAR itself to include other policies that impact HIV and AIDS, and even other diseases.

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Wooden figurine of a person leans against a wood wall clock

Patient Satisfaction in the NHS in England with the Emergency Room

By John Tingle

The Accident and Emergency (A&E), the Emergency Room, is the bellwether NHS speciality from which all the other clinical specialities appear to be judged. Long reported delays and missed targets in the A&E (Emergency Room) lead to a public, media clamoring that the NHS is a failing public service. The independent regulator of health and social care in England, the CQC (Care Quality Commission) recently published findings from a national survey of more than 50,000 people who received urgent and emergency care from 132 NHS trusts (hospitals).The survey looked at people’s experiences, from decision to attend, to leave, using Type 1 (major A&E) and Type 3 (urgent care centers, minor injury units, urgent treatment centers) urgent and emergency care services.

Survey Results

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Female gynecologist talking to female patient while holding a tablet

How to understand the Mexican Supreme Court Decision Regarding Abortion Based on Health Risks

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Adriana Ortega Ortiz

In Mexico, abortion is a state-law matter. It is considered a crime in most of the Mexican states except for Mexico City and Oaxaca where abortion is permitted within the first trimester of the pregnancy.

In the rest of the states abortion is allowed under limited legal indications: rape, health risks, danger of death, fetal impairment, and distressing economic situations. The legal indications are similar but not identical in the Mexican territory. The only legal indication for abortion that applies in every state is rape.

In this context, what makes the recent abortion ruling of the Mexican Supreme Court important?

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Flag of Malawi blowing in the wind in front of a clear blue sky

A 15-year review of the PEPFAR support to Malawi: How Has it Succeeded?

Monday, October 7, the Petrie-Flom Center is co-sponsoring “15+ Years of PEPFAR: How U.S. Action on HIV/AIDS Has Changed Global Health,” from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. This event is cosponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, the Center for Health Law Policy and Innovation at Harvard Law School, and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

By Maureen Luba

Malawi was listed as one of the six locations that have made remarkable progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic in a recent report produced by AmfAR, AVAC, and Friends of the Global Fight. Being one of the poorest countries on the list, Malawi has proven that ending the epidemic is possible anywhere.

But one would want to know what has contributed to this success!

Well, there are many factors. And funding from donors is one of them. The HIV/AIDS response in Malawi is largely funded by the Global Fund and PEPFAR. But for the sake of this blog I will focus on PEPFAR, a U.S. government program launched in 2003 by then President George W. Bush. In 15 years of support, PEPFAR has led the world in funding the global HIV response.

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Statue of Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, placed in front of a large open book on which a gavel has been placed.

Amparo en Revisión 1388/2015 and the “Rights” Discourse in Mexico

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Patricia del Arenal Urueta

Since June of 2011, the Mexican Constitution includes a variety of clauses that would undoubtedly classify as “progressive.” Article 1 incorporates all human rights protected by international treaties into the Constitution itself; and this means that every authority (including, of course, judges) should interpret the law in order to reach the most comprehensive protection of human rights. It is a beautiful and promising text. It follows a global tendency premised on the notion that international human rights are the standard by which it is possible to scrutinize any act (or decision) claiming political and legal authority over individuals.

However, given the alarming data showing an important increase in human rights violations over the past few years in Mexico, there are good reasons to feel uneasy about the efficacy of such an ambitious amendment. There is a striking disparity between its idealistic pretensions and the appalling reality. This phenomenon has prompted questions harder to address than those concerns typically attributed to a fragile Rule of Law. In fact, some scholars and other institutions have wondered whether such constitutional discourse serves as a sham. The idea behind this argument is that a text so grand can mostly serve to mask the government’s intention (deliberate or not) to actually do the opposite; this is, to advance policy uncommitted ─or even contrary─ to human rights, and to distract the international community from facts that it would probably disapprove.

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Illustration of a red AIDS awareness ribbon. The right end of the ribbon is the Nigerian flag.

PEPFAR and Health Systems Transformation in Nigeria

Monday, October 7, the Petrie-Flom Center is co-sponsoring “15+ Years of PEPFAR: How U.S. Action on HIV/AIDS Has Changed Global Health,” from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. This event is cosponsored by the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, the Center for Health Law Policy and Innovation at Harvard Law School, and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

By Prosper Okonkwo

HIV diagnosis in Sub Saharan Africa in the nineties and early 2000s was literally a death sentence. This was either due to one or a combination of ignorance, denial, and weak health systems.

A few focusing events and the return to democratic rule in 1999, acted as fillip, jump-starting the national response, albeit modestly. In 2001, 10,000 adults and 5,000 children were placed on antiretrovirals (ARVs) at the cost of $7 a month. This was at a time when sourcing these drugs privately cost about $350 monthly in a country with a GDP per capita of less than $750, less than 5% health insurance coverage, and with about 80% of health expenditure paid out of pocket.

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View of the outside of the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice

The Fundamental Right to Health and Judicial Review in México

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By David García Sarubbi

The Mexican constitution is one that contains not only a list of civil rights, but also a declaration of social rights, and both are considered rules of decisions, perfectly justiciable under any court of law. This is important because this year the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman who had been denied an abortion alleged to be necessary to preserve her health in a public hospital. The Court sided with this claim after concluding abortion is covered by Constitution as interpreted by the Court.

So being the ground of such a ruling, it seems important to take into consideration some things about the doctrine of justiciability of the right to health in Mexico. In order to protect it, there are different systems funded with public money to provide services to the community. Nonetheless, the most important systems of health care are those funded with additional contributions from workers, which account for other rights also provided by these institutions, such as pensions for retirees as well as unemployment, accident, or life insurance.

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Photograph of a button pinned to a shirt. The button reads "Fuera el aborto de codigo penal."

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: A Legal and Political Flashpoint in Today’s World

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center on Friday, October 4th, provides a critical opportunity to reflect upon the progress that has been made with respect to recognizing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as legally enforceable rights, and the role courts have played in Mexico and elsewhere.  The event could not be more timely, as the battle lines were evident at the UN General Assembly’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Summit and in negotiations over the “Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.” A group of countries led by the United States wanted to remove language of SRHR from the declaration and, in turn, the priorities for UHC. That effort was ultimately defeated but the debates showed the degree of contestation that these norms face in development paradigms, as well as international and national law.

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Photo of a globe with a bandage tied around it

Struggles for Human Rights in Health in an Age of Neoliberalism: From Civil Disobedience to Epistemic Disobedience

This is the abstract of a paper by Alicia Ely Yamin. You can read the full paper in the Journal of Human Rights Practice here.

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abstract

Like other contributors to this special issue and beyond, I believe we are at a critical inflection point in human rights and need to re-energize our work broadly to address growing economic inequality as well as inequalities based on different axes of identity. In relation to the constellation of fields involved in ‘health and human rights’ specifically—which link distinct communities with dissonant values, methods and orthodoxies—I argue that we also need to challenge ideas that are taken for granted in the fields that we are trying to transform. After setting out a personal and subjective account of why human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) are unlikely to be meaningful tools for social change as they are now generally being deployed, I suggest we collectively—scholars, practitioners and advocates—need to grapple with how to think about: (1) biomedicine in relation to the social as well as biological nature of health and well-being; and (2) conventional public health in relation to the social construction of health within and across borders and health systems. In each case, I suggest that challenging accepted truths in different disciplines, and in turn in the political economy of global health, have dramatic implications for not just theory but informing different strategies for advancing health (and social) justice through rights in practice.