Hand with a red napkin washes the chalk board.

A European Cancer Survivors’ Right to be Forgotten?

By Hannah van Kolfschooten and Mirko Faccioli

There are currently over 12 million cancer survivors in Europe. Due to improving cancer screening methods and medical treatment, this number is expected to grow every year. Former cancer patients often face multiple forms of discrimination throughout their lives. Many commercial companies make long-term cancer survivors “pay twice” – while having similar life expectancies as their peers, they are denied access to key services because of their former cancer status.

To combat this unfair practice, some European countries are establishing a “cancer survivors’ right to be forgotten,” also referred to as the “oncological right to be forgotten.” Italy’s parliament just passed a law to establish the right. Patients’ rights organizations and EU institutions are pushing for a “European cancer survivors’ right to be forgotten.” This post outlines the purpose of such a right and flags potential challenges in its adoption.

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EU flags in front of European Commission in Brussels.

Surrogacy and the Workplace: Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leave in the European Union

By Marianna Iliadou

In surrogacy, a woman (surrogate) gestates a child for a (different/same-sex) couple or single person (intended parents [IPs]). This can generate issues in the workplace: for example, IPs may be unable to secure leave after the birth of the surrogate-born child, as maternity leave is traditionally linked to gestation and childbirth. In this blog post, I will examine maternity, paternity, and parental leave within the European Union (EU) and its applicability to surrogacy. While EU maternity leave policy regarding surrogacy has not seen developments since 2014, recent developments concerning paternity leave bring the topic back to the fore.

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Vaccine and syringe in front of EU flag.

The European Commission’s New Compulsory Licensing Proposal: A Step Forward?

By Sarah Gabriele

On April 27, 2023, the European Commission proposed new legislation that would allow companies to make drugs without the patent holder’s consent in emergency situations. The proposed legislation constitutes a step forward in the European Union’s effort to harmonize patent law in the Union, after the establishment of Unitary Patents and the European Patent Court.

In its proposal, the EU Commission acknowledges that intellectual property rights, and, in particular, patent rights play an important role in access to medicine, especially during public health crises. The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated how the need for protecting and incentivizing innovation clashed with the need to make products widely available. To solve this tension, the Commission recognizes that patent law already offers a solution: compulsory licensing.

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Wooman doctor using tablet with creative glowing digital heart futuristic interface hologram. Medicine, cardiology and future concept.

The Council of Europe’s Artificial Intelligence Convention: Implications for Health and Patients

By Hannah van Kolfschooten

The Council of Europe, the most important international human rights organization on the European continent, currently is drafting a Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law (AI Convention). The Convention aims to protect fundamental rights against the harms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and is expected to become a global leading convention, as non-European states such as the United States (U.S.) are considering becoming signatories.

As health care is one of the top industries for AI, the forthcoming AI Convention will have important implications for the protection of health and patients. This post gives a brief outline of the background, scope, and purpose of the AI Convention. It goes on to flag common human rights issues associated with medical AI and then touches upon the most important health rights implications of the current text of the AI Convention.

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Interior of an Italian pharmacy. Pharmacist looks for medicines to sell to the customer. Puglia, Italia - 29/01/2009.

Falling Revenue Means Pharmacies in Italy Aren’t Keeping up with Other EU Countries

By Gianluca Ceci and Sarah Gabriele

In 2021, the total revenue of Italian pharmacies dropped by 4% compared to 2015, despite Italy being the fifth largest country in the EU for pharmaceutical expenditures. The main reasons: the reabsorption of demand and small pharmacy size, as well as the failure to innovate the current business model.

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Bill of Health - Globe and vaccine, covid vaccine

Reclaiming Global Public Health

By Zain Rizvi

By December 2020, the world had astonishingly powerful tools against COVID-19. New mRNA vaccines, underpinned by decades of public investment, had been authorized by global regulators. Yet the promise of the vaccines was unevenly realized: deep fault lines emerged between those who were able to secure vaccines and those left behind, or what South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa called “vaccine apartheid.”

Dose shortages elevated the role of pharmaceutical executives. Fielding calls from heads of state, they decided what vaccine deliveries to prioritize, shaping which countries could protect lives and livelihoods. The answer to one of the most important public health questions of our time — who gets access to vaccines? — was mostly determined neither by political representatives nor scientists, but by corporate executives.

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Bill of Health - Globe and vaccine, covid vaccine

Decolonizing the Pandemic Treaty Through Vaccine Equity

By Tlaleng Mofokeng, Daniel Wainstock, and Renzo Guinto

In recent years, there have been growing calls to “decolonize” the field of global health. Global health traces its roots back to colonial medicine when old empires sought to address tropical diseases which, if not controlled, could be brought by colonizers back home.

Today, many countries in the Global South may have already been liberated from their colonizers, but the colonial behavior of global health continues to manifest in policies, funding, research, and operations.

Unlike the tropical diseases of the past, SARS-CoV-2 has affected rich and poor countries alike, but the tools for putting this pandemic under control — most notably vaccines — remain unevenly distributed across the world. As of October 27, 2021, 63.5% of individuals in high-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, only 4.8% of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

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Vial and syringe.

The Pandemic Treaty and Intellectual Property Sharing: Making Vaccine Knowledge a Public Good 

By Ellen ‘t Hoen

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lack of regulation for the sharing of intellectual property (IP) and technology needed for an effective and equitable response to the crisis.

The Pandemic Treaty (or other legal instrument) scheduled for discussion at the World Health Assembly in the fall of 2021 should focus on establishing the norm that the IP and knowledge needed to develop and produce essential pandemic health technologies become global public goods. It should also ensure predictable and sufficient financing for the development of such public goods.

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Bill of Health - Globe and vaccine, covid vaccine

Access-to-Medicines Activists Demand Health Justice During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Brook K. Baker 

It was apparent from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic that a business-as-usual approach — perpetuating the biopharmaceutical industry’s intellectual property-based monopolies and allowing artificial supply scarcity and nationalistic hoarding by rich countries — would result in systemic failure and gross inequity.

The world had seen it all before, from the Big Pharma blockade of affordable antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS, to the hoarding of vaccines by the global north during the H1N1 bird flu outbreak in 2009 and its stockpiling of Tamiflu.

Activists in the access-to-medicines movement quickly mobilized to combat the threat of vaccine/therapeutic apartheid.

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