I’m writing to you from Berlin, Germany on Thanksgiving and I’m missing my family. But it was important to be here. I came to attend and participate at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF). At the IGF, people from all over the world delve into an assortment of internet issues that impact the lives of people everywhere. Very broadly, the topics covered related to free speech, privacy, competition, security, child safety, nationalism, protecting democratic elections, and the reason I was here: discussing and promoting access to safe and affordable medicine on the Internet. Attendees and participants are affiliated with international governmental organizations, national governments, non-profit organizations, activists, businesses, journalists, and a wide array of policy professionals focused on internet governance.
What is internet governance? I like this definition from Georgia Tech School of Public Policy:
“Internet governance refers to the rules, policies, standards and practices that coordinate and shape global cyberspace.”
My fellow Americans should take note that people in other countries were able to hear about the crisis of high drug prices in our country, in which many tens of millions of us don’t fill prescriptions each year. Many face bankruptcy, greater sickness, trips to the emergency room and even death because of the cost of prescription drugs.
The focus of the IGF panels on medicines access was the Brussels Principles on the Sale of Medicine over the Internet. The Brussels Principles declare that access to affordable and safe medicine is a human right and that the rules for selling medicines online must reflect that. That includes ensuring people can import a legitimate medicine from another country, including using online pharmacies, if they are unable to afford it or it is not available domestically, as long as the person has a valid prescription.
A big problem is that Pharma-funded initiatives are making it more difficult to obtain more affordable medicine using the Internet if it involves personal importation from Canada or any country. Gatekeepers to the Internet and online commerce, such as search engines, credit card companies, domain name companies, private couriers, and others are pressured by these initiatives to prevent Americans from reaching safe international online pharmacies and using them to afford medicine. As I see it, those efforts and cooperation with them violate the Brussels Principles.
It was an honor for me to join a panel with Aria Ilyad Ahmad, PhD candidate, Research Fellow, Global Health Foresighting, York University, Canada; Oki (Okiomiteni) Joy Olufuye, Pharmacist and Health Manager, Nigeria; and our moderator, Ron Andruff, ONR Consulting, Canada.
If you love, like, dislike, hate or do not care about the United Nations one way or the other, I promise you that this conference and others like it can affect you. Time and money permitting, I’m doing my best to be involved on this scene. Wearing my two hats as president of PharmacyChecker and Prescription Justice, I’m trying to tell your story about the injustice of high drug prices in America. But you should know that problems are far worse in low-income countries where, as Oki Olufye stated about Nigeria, even larger segments of the population have to go without medicine and face much higher risks of counterfeit drugs. Online access to medicines is important to consumers worldwide when people fall through the cracks of their healthcare systems and will be increasingly so in the years to come.
Over the coming year, I’ll be writing more about the frontlines of internet governance as it affects online access to safe and affordable medicine.
And now, for many of you sitting down to a great Thanksgiving meal, enjoy it! I’ll be facetiming with my family momentarily. Please remember that millions of Americans still have to choose between food and medicine. Perhaps by next Thanksgiving we will have turned the tide on the crisis of high drug prices in America.
Happy Thanksgiving!brussels principles, IGF