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Human Rights in the Digital Age, Online Pharmacies, and the "Brussels Principles"

Tim Smith

"Human Rights in a Digital Age" is the theme of this year's RightsCon conference in Toronto. An essential human right is access to safe, affordable prescription medications. The Internet makes this possible, our organization has proven it's achievable and sustainable over an extended period of time, and our proposed "Brussels Principles" provide the framework to take our proven success internationally. Across the Globe, to people everywhere.

Let me back up to RightsCon Brussels 2017. At that groundbreaking conference, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) participated in a workshop entitled: Online Access to Affordable Medication: Applying Human Rights Law to Cyber Rule-Making and Internet Governance. Together with Knowledge Ecology International, Public Citizen, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Prescription Justice, we jointly formulated the aforementioned Brussels Principles, which are best practices for licensed pharmacies that enable safe, reliable, and affordable medication sales over the Internet.

At RightsCon 2018 (Toronto, May 16-18) with our session: Making Safe Online Access to Affordable Medication Real, we will serve on a panel of distinguished international experts, addressing this urgent issue and discussing the proactive framework that will ensure its success.

Heading into the conference, it's important to give this critical discussion some historical context. Specifically, why this is such an important issue, how we're qualified to address it, and how the Brussels Principles will help negotiate the intersection of human rights and digital technology.

As the Executive Director of the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, every day I receive emails and speak to people who are trying to find a safe source of medications from a pharmacy online. Why? Because they can't afford or don't have access to their prescribed medication where they live. In fact, CIPA has served more than one million patients annually, providing safe and affordable daily medications (but not controlled substances). The high cost of medications in the U.S. is something already on the radar at both the federal and state levels; witness repeated comments by the U.S. president, as well as a recent, overwhelming (141 to 2!) vote by the Vermont House of Representatives in support of a bill to reduce the cost of prescription medications through importation.

Senator Rand Paul also clearly voiced the general feeling of the average American during Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's confirmation hearing. Mr. Azar noted that "Importation must be reliable and safe, in the mind of the president." Senator Paul interrupted him: "You would have to sit there and say the drugs from the European Union or Canada or Australia are not safe… It is frankly just not true… It's a canard that has been going on year after year after year… It's just BS! ... to serve the pharmaceutical companies..."

But access and affordability to safe medications is not just a U.S. problem, and we have seen a growing number of patients from countries around the world seeking to have their prescriptions filled from Canadian and international licensed pharmacies.

Can medications be ordered safely on the Internet? Yes, with proper regulation and vigilance.

The Canadian International Pharmacy Association is visible proof this can be done. Remember the one million patients a year I mentioned above? We've been serving that many for more than 15 years, and we have a 100% perfect safety record.

We achieve this perfect safety record through rigorous procedures and controls established and monitored by our organization, and adhered to by our pharmacy members. We also are fully engaged in the fight against "rogue" pharmacies illegitimately using our certification mark or otherwise trying to leverage our good Canadian name and reputation. CIPA works closely with both attorneys and law enforcement on an ongoing basis in this effort.

Based on our experiences and safety record selling medications online since 2002, we are pleased to work with so many other Internet and industry experts on the Brussels Principles.

Serving patients economically and safely, doing what is expected of industry leaders by assisting law enforcement, participating in the development of the Brussels Principles, active engagement in ICANN, all add up to a solution that is effective, practical, and easily within our reach.

We'll be discussing this topic in detail, and seeking feedback to the Brussels Principles, at our RightsCon 2018 session. I welcome you to participate with us in Toronto, on May 17 at 9 am (Session #636).

Our renowned panel of thought leaders includes Dr. Jillian Kohler, Professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and Munk School of Global Affairs, and Aria Ilyad Ahmand who is a Consultant to the World Health Organization on Substandard and Falsified Medical Products. Jillian pioneered the methodology on good governance in the pharmaceutical system for the World Bank, which was subsequently adopted by the WHO and has been applied in over 35 countries globally. Aria is a policy advisor at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University, where he has also served since 2014 as a consultant to the WHO's Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products. A past Duke University Global Health Fellow and past faculty member of the Global Health Education Initiative at the University of Toronto, Aria is currently completing his PhD in Global Health Governance. Joining these two experts will be other industry representatives, including Gabriel Levitt (Prescription Justice); Tracy Cooley (Campaign for Personal Prescription Importation); Dr. Shivam Patel (PharmacyChecker); Robert Guerra (Privaterra); and myself.

I hope to see you there!

By Tim Smith, General Manager
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