Health care access is a human right, not just a matter of philanthropy, the Holy See told the United Nations last Friday.
“All our efforts must be directed to ensure human dignity, quality of health and life and to the building of a better world for the generations to come,” said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Holy See’s permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva.
The archbishop spoke to the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 10, under general debate on access to medicines.
Archbishop Jurkovic said health is a fundamental human right that is “essential for the exercise of many other rights” and “necessary for living a life in dignity.”
“Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and of human labor is not mere philanthropy,” he added. “This is a moral obligation.”
He praised efforts to implement sustainable development goals related to medicine. These include support for research and development of vaccines and medicine for diseases that primarily affect developing countries, and support for affordable essential medicines and vaccines.
The archbishop voiced the Holy See’s appreciation for international agreements that provide legal pathways for affordable medicine and that help the most vulnerable meet their needs. He noted the need for treatments for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and other epidemics.
“Access to affordable medicines no longer represents a challenge only for the least developed and other developing countries; it has also become an increasingly urgent issue for higher-income countries as well,” he said.
There are problems like antibiotic resistance worldwide and a lack of new medicines in developing countries in the face of budget constraints on health programs, the archbishop noted.
Archbishop Jurkovic said the Catholic Church makes a “major contribution” to health care around the world through local Churches, religious institutions, and private initiatives. These Catholic institutions run over 5,100 hospitals, 16,500 dispensaries, 600 leprosy homes, and 15,600 homes for the elderly, the chronically ill or disabled.
Citing firsthand information from these institutions in the most isolated and poorest parts of the world, the archbishop said that rights to health care are “far from being realized.”
“In order to promote human dignity and to adopt policies rooted in a human rights approach, we need to confront and remove barriers, such as monopolies and oligopolies, lack of access and affordability and, in particular, both overwhelming and unacceptable human greed,” he continued.
“If we fully intend to build a better world and future for the generations that will come after us, we must remedy and correct the misalignments and policy incoherence between the intellectual property rights of inventors, innovators or manufacturers and the human rights of human persons.”
“Pope Francis decries the selfishness and short-term thinking that sabotage progress on saving the environment, on peace building, and on public health crises as well,” Archbishop Jurkovic said. “He insists on dialogue ‘as the only way to confront the problems of our world and to seek solutions that are truly effective’.”
Authentic dialogue cannot allow the individual interests of countries or specific interest groups to dominate discussions, he told the United Nations.