The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2015, lay out 17 goals for improving the health, safety, and quality of life for the world’s population by 2030, with several narrower targets within each goal. SDG 3 aims to promote health and well-being, and target 3.8 asks the international community to strive for universal health coverage, ensuring that people have timely access to affordable, safe, and effective healthcare services. (Universal health coverage should not be confused with universal health insurance, which may be a tool for achieving universal coverage, but may not be necessary or sufficient.)
The World Health Organization estimates that at least 400 million people worldwide lack access to essential health services, and that substandard and falsified medicines make up at least 10% of medicines in low- and middle income countries. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked debate over patents for novel medical treatments. Some have argued that the slow adoption of COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries was due in part to the patents held by companies such as Moderna and Pfizer, which restricted third-party manufacturers from producing patented vaccines. Although Moderna initially promised not to enforce the patent for their COVID-19 vaccine, they have recently filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Pfizer and BioNTech, leaving open questions as to how medical patents will be treated, in regard to both COVID-19 vaccines and future medical treatments for any number of diseases.
What should the World Health Organization do to promote access to health services? How can healthcare be made more affordable? What can be done to curb the prevalence of substandard medicines? In the face of an epidemic or pandemic, should essential medical treatments be restricted by patents, or should manufacturing rights be opened to allow more production?
Sustainable Development Goal 3:
WHO: Expanding Access to Health Services:
WHO Study on Public Health and the Impact of Substandard Medical Products: