BridgesVolume Number  • 27th June 2007

Who to step up Work onaccess to medicines


Organised by ICTSD in jun july 2007

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The World Health Assembly resolution also calls on the WHO Director-General to encourage the evelopment of proposals for health-needs driven research and development, including “a range of incentive mechanisms […] addressing the linkage of the cost of R&D and the price of medicines, vaccines, diagnostic kits and other health-care products and a method for tailoring the optimal mix of incentives to a particular condition or product, with the objective of addressing diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.” Brazil, supported by Canada, Chile, Norway and others, had originally put forward language referring to the explicit separation of R&D costs from drug prices.
In addition, the resolution asks for further WHO support for consultative meetings in order to set regional priorities. At a technical briefing on the intergovernmental working group at the Assembly, concerns were raised about the level of participation of African and Latin American countries in these consultations, which the group’s chair, Peter Oldham of Canada, described as ‘absolutely critical’.
The US formally disassociated itself from the resolution. Director-General Chan noted that she had been struck by the complexities involved in the working group, but added that she was increasingly aware of the importance of intellectual property rights to member states. Assistant Director-General Howard Zucker clarified that the working group’s mandate could be extended beyond its current timeframe, which calls for the group to prepare a strategy and plan of action in time for the next World Health Assembly in May 2008 following a final meeting this November. Resolutions on Malaria, Avian Flu and Children’s Medicines The World Health Assembly also dealt with the relationship between intellectual property and public health in resolutions negotiated on avian flu, malaria and medicines for children. A last-minute resolution was agreed on the ‘Sharing of Influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits’, proposed by Indonesia for a “transparent, fair and equitable sharing of
benefits” from vaccines developed from virus samples. The country’s Health Minister, Siti Fadillah Supari, explained that his government had suspended sample-sharing of the H5N1 bird flu virus with the WHO last December due to concerns that the WHO had passed some samples on without consent, which could have in turn resulted in intellectual property rights that denied developing countries ‘equitable access’ to future vaccines.
A draft resolution on malaria was agreed after small group consultations mainly between Kenya and the US. Each had submitted a proposal in January, differing primarily in terms of their references to TRIPS flexibilities. Kenya and other developing countries wanted to urge WHO members to provide for full use of flexibilities in their legislation “to increase access to anti-malarial medicines, diagnostics and preventive technologies.” In contrast, the US, along with Switzerland and Japan among others, did not want TRIPS flexibilities to be mentioned in this connection. The final compromise inserted a definition of ‘pharmaceutical products’ into an explanatory footnote stating that a ‘pharmaceutical product’ was “any patented product, or products manufactured through a patented process, of the pharmaceutical sector” needed to address public health problems in developing countries.

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