The new panel comprises 16 eminent individuals from around the world with expertise in trade, public health, human rights, and legal issues associated with access to treatment.
It will be co-chaired by the former presidents of Switzerland and of Botswana.
The panel’s task is to make recommendations to the Secretary-General about how to improve the affordability and accessibility of essential medicines and how to improve incentives for the development of new vaccines, medicines and diagnostics.
The work of the panel will provide fresh thinking as governments begin to work towards the ambitious set of health-related targets that fall under Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
These include the target of achieving universal access to “quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”
Additional impetus for the appointment of the panel has come from the Ebola crisis, which has killed two out of every five persons infected (more than 11,300 deaths) and highlights the relative lack of investment in diseases that are not associated with wealthy markets.
Other challenges in access to medicines grind on over decades.
Despite dramatic improvements, in 2014 the global coverage of persons with HIV receiving antiretroviral treatment was still only 40%.
As non-communicable diseases assume a higher profile in low- and middle-income countries, access to these drugs will also bring new challenges.
Mr Kirby was a member of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law (2010–2012), whose report contained “regime-changing” recommendations about access to HIV medicines, according to Professor Roger Magnusson.
“Mr Kirby’s appointment to the panel is significant, and suggests that fresh and bold thinking is expected and will be welcomed.”
The panel has a tight timeline. It will present its recommendations to the Secretary-General in June 2016.