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IGF 2019 Pre-Event #47 Protecting Public Health Online: Shadow Regulation & Access to Medicines

Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University

Description: 

Innovation and consumer choice are at the heart of the internet. In an increasingly globalized digital marketplace, however, there is a growing need to develop standards that protect the health and safety of consumers. The sale of medicines over the internet represent one of the fastest growing markets, driven largely by a lack of affordability and domestic availability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over two billion people lack regular access to essential medicines. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people have used the internet to fill legitimate prescriptions from both domestic and foreign pharmacies.

While consumers increasingly turn to internet pharmacies, there is a critical gap in guiding principles or standards that apply across national boundaries. Instead, we have a legislative and regulatory patchwork with uneven jurisdictional coverage, frequently outdated, and enforced disproportionately. The lack of transnational principles, guidelines and/or standards as they apply to internet pharmacies has at least two implications to consumer choice and consumer safety. On the one hand, it undermines access to affordable and quality medical products from legitimate internet pharmacies, while simultaneously failing to address the risks posed by rogue actors that sell falsified or substandard medical products, often without a valid prescription. In order to fend off the growing public health moral hazard, there is a fundamental need to develop appropriate international regulatory guidelines. Every day, people all around the world use the internet to purchase products and services wherever they find them at a price they are prepared to pay, for a legitimate product. Pharmacy is no different. What is required, in other words, are ‘digital’ standards to augment outdated ‘analog’ laws.

The aim of this Workshop will be to examine a practical and pressing case study of digital governance as it applies to a growing public health need. While the initiative may be novel in the context of an IGF event, it builds on years of work that culminated in 2018 with the adoption of the Brussels Principles on the Sale of Medicines Over the Internet (‘Brussels Principles’, www.BrusselsPrinciples.org) developed by a coalition of stakeholders, internet experts and civil society at RightsCon Brussels 2017 and Toronto 2018.

For Day Zero, we will convene a broad spectrum of invited guests from across the spectrum of stakeholders to take up the outstanding technical and policy challenges while imagining the future of digital governance of transnational internet pharmacies.

Remote participation will be supported for those not able to attend in person and who indicate their interest in this very topical area.

Output of the Day Zero event will also be reflected into the requested workshop submitted into the IGF MAG process.

Following IGF 2019, the output of both Day Zero and the proposed workshop will be reflected in the continued work program in support of building awareness of the Brussels Principles and their acceptance at both national and international levels, also through engagement with the WHO and other relevant UN entities.

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 411