Innovation and Global Access to Essential Medicines

In many countries, people still do not have access to the medicines they need in order to ensure an acceptable state of health. Switzerland is committed to facilitate access to medicines while safeguarding the protection of intellectual property rights which are drivers for research and innovation.

Innovation and access to medicines: a delicate balance

Access for all to high-quality, affordable medicines is a subject that is being debated intensely at international level. The debate focuses on the scope and duration of patents, and the exclusive commercial rights that are granted to the manufacturer of an active substance. This is where two realities clash.

  • On one hand, the health of people in many countries is affected by limited access to what are known as “essential” medicines. In some countries this shortcoming is due to regulatory issues and to weak health systems, but also to the tariffs imposed on medicines. As a consequence, some medicines are unaffordable to many people. The mechanisms of intellectual property protection are one reason, among others, for these unaffordable prices. 

  • On the other hand, the process of creating a medicine is a long and expensive one, taking ten to fifteen years from the research stage through clinical trials to marketing. Intellectual property rights guarantee a certain return on investment and reinforce the commercial position of the manufacturer for a defined period of time. Conversely, the absence of intellectual property rights would reduce both the incentive to carry out research and the likelihood of discovering new medicines.     

Swiss support for the improvement of access to medicines

The topics of improving access to medicines, strengthening global health research, protecting intellectual property and promoting human rights are priorities for Switzerland and stipulated as explicit goals in its Health Foreign Policy.

Based on this policy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Switzerland has fostered and fosters, among others, a number of initiatives at international level aiming at improving access to medicines:

  • an active support to the drafting process of WHO Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (improvement of R&D and access to medicines relevant to diseases disproportionately affecting populations in low and middle income countries);
  • the publication at national level of a document on the implementation of this Plan of Action in Switzerland and presenting Swiss commitment in this area.
  • a technical and financial support for the follow-up of the report of the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG).

COVAX initiative: global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

Switzerland supports a global approach to the equitable distribution of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines worldwide, in which the COVAX initiative plays a key role. COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which also contributes to the development of treatments and tests, as well as the strengthening of health systems worldwide. This initiative was launched by the WHO and other organisations in April 2020 as a multilateral response to the pandemic.

  • COVAX maintains contacts with over 190 participating countries, thus supporting a global network for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
  • The donor-funded Covid-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC) mechanism enables 92 lower-income countries to obtain vaccines via COVAX. In 2020/2021, Switzerland contributed a total of CHF 145 million to the COVAX AMC.
  • To date, Switzerland has donated several million vaccine doses to more than ten countries around the world. All of Switzerland’s Covid-19 vaccine deliveries (by channel, country, product, volume, etc.) can be viewed on the UNICEF Vaccine Market Dashboard (see link below).

Security of supply of medicines and vaccines

Bottlenecks in supplies of medicinal products (medicines and vaccines) are increasing in Switzerland and worldwide – not only in times of crisis, but also in so-called normal circumstances.

Both for medicines and for vaccines, Switzerland is dependent on the smooth functioning of global value chains. The Covid-19 crisis has shown that established global value chains are vulnerable to external shocks. Important areas for action with regard to the elimination of medicine shortages and for the long-term vaccine strategy are international collaborations and the development of a functioning global network. To this end, bilateral and multilateral alliances are to be promoted, as well as Switzerland’s participation in international public private partnerships and initiatives.

In February 2022 (see link below), the FOPH published a report exploring the wider context of drug shortages in Switzerland.

In addition, at the request of the Federal Council, the FOPH, in collaboration with the EAER, has prepared a “Long-term strategy for vaccine research, development and production in Switzerland”.

Last modification 16.11.2023

Top of page


Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
International Affairs Division
Schwarzenburgstrasse 157
3003 Bern
Tel. +41 58 464 55 65

Print contact