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Activists for Access to Medicines and Internet Rights Develop Brussels Principles for Online Sales

Tim Smith

RightsCon, the world's leading summit on tech, society, and human rights has been called "the Davos of Digital Rights". At RightsCon 2017, the sixth event of the annual summit series on human rights in the digital age, the global human rights community came together in the heart of European politics and policymaking on March 29-31, 2017. More than 1,500 experts from 105 countries around the world, across diverse geographic and stakeholder lines, joined together to produce measurable outcomes on the most pressing and emerging issues threatening human rights in the digital age.

Organized by Prescription Justice, representatives from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Knowledge Ecology International, Public Citizen, PharmacyChecker, and Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) participated on a panel to address Internet Access to Affordable Medication in one of the 250 sessions.

As the RightsCon Outcomes document noted, "access to medicines and Internet rights advocates discussed the importance of, and threats to, online access to safe and affordable medication created by the pharmaceutical industry's attempts to control what content and commerce is and is not permissible on the Internet when it comes to medication sales."

Following the session, participants composed the working draft Statement of Brussels Principles for the Online Sale of Medication, inspired by the belief that access to affordable medications is an essential component to the fundamental human right to health, which were finalized by Prescription Justice and Knowledge Ecology International. These principles should guide the Internet and public health community to best serve consumers.

CIPA is proud to join with these notable public interest-focused organizations in collaborating on the Brussels Principles. The Brussels Principles provide ethical and consumer considerations necessary to achieve a multi-stakeholder initiative to look at medicine sales on the Internet. To this end, we welcome all organizations from both the Global North and Global South to join us by adding your endorsement.

The Internet is about innovation, which has led to companies like Amazon upending the brick and mortar retail sector to become the largest retailer in the world, and Air BnB to open an entirely new sector of home accommodations. New Internet models inevitably disrupt the status quo. Since its inception, CIPA has been addressing artificial barriers in the pharmaceutical prescription fulfillment sector in the same manner as Skype disrupted the regulated telephone sector. CIPA believes that fulfilling its mission to provide safe and affordable medicines to global consumers is ultimately achieved over time through legislative amendments that update current "analogue laws" to digital laws that better meet society's needs, serve the public interest, and address the reality of how people shop today and tomorrow.

CIPA's innovative Internet model — with a 15-year perfect safety record — serves almost a million patients annually. As such, we are excited to join with Prescription Justice, PharmacyChecker, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Knowledge Ecology International, and Public Citizen in the development of the Brussels Principles for the Online Sale of Medication to establish global standards of practice that safeguard consumers' access to necessary medicine via the Internet. With globally-inclusive principles we are able to better identify, protect against, and effect action against rogue pharmacies that endanger consumers worldwide.

Brussels Principles for the Online Sale of Medication


  • that the cost and local availability of medication is a global barrier to essential medical treatments for hundreds of millions of people;
  • that the Internet has served as a disruptive force to traditional industry in the practice of pharmacy and trade in pharmaceuticals, allowing for the ethical international sale of medications to patients;
  • that countries are neglecting their human rights obligations when their citizens do not have adequate access to affordable healthcare, including medication

We affirm the following principles relating to the sale of medicine ordered for personal use on the Internet:

  • Access to affordable medications is an essential component to the fundamental human right to health.
  • Laws, regulations, and enforcement actions that impede online access to lower-priced, lawfully manufactured medication can be inimical to public health.
  • Consumers should be able to use the Internet to order and have delivered through the mail safe and affordable medications.
  • National laws can violate fundamental human rights when their effect prevents and, or, deters, citizens from importing medications for personal use who, because of cost or other access reasons, when patients have no other realistic options.
  • Countries, and international organizations to which they belong, should promote a competitive online marketplace for safe pharmaceuticals, one that respects and empowers consumers, recognizing the need for policies that protect and facilitate affordability of drugs in countries with different incomes.
  • Policies that affect online access to medication should be consumer-focused, patient-centered, evidence-based, and created with the understanding that prices often prohibit access.
  • Recognizing the public health benefit in enabling consumers to find international online pharmacies that are safe and reliable, international and national enforcement efforts should focus on identifying and sanctioning online pharmacies that engage in the intentional sale of counterfeit and falsified medication, as defined by the World Health Organization, and otherwise ensuring that online pharmacies are a reliable and safe source of medication.
  • Internet intermediaries, such as domain name registries, advertising networks, payment processors, financial institutions and mail and delivery services should not misuse their commercial power to disrupt online access to lawful, safe and affordable medication.

* * *

CIPA invites all those who believe that access to safe and affordable medicine is a human right to join us in furthering this effort, to the benefit of all, by endorsing the Brussels Principles.

By Tim Smith, General Manager

Related topics: Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation


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