WHO at a crossroads on a mandate for an R&D Treaty

21 May 2009

Today at the World Health Assembly (WHA) the US and EU are opposing that the WHO have a mandate on global research and development norms, including the possibility for Member States to negotiate at WHO a global biomedical R&D treaty.

Developing countries governments made very strong interventions this morning on this issue (among them India, Bolivia, Barbados, Suriname, Bangladesh, Ghana, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba and Jamaica) and are wondering where are the promises of multilateralism made by the new Obama administration.

In response to a question by Bolivia, Barbados, Bangladesh and Suriname on the consequences of deleting WHO as stakeholder from the R&D treaty action, the secretariat made clear that this is now solely under the mandate of the EWG (Expert Working group on R&D financing) that has a 1 year mandate (until November 2009), and it will depend on the issue being on their final report.

Seven non-governmental organizations (Essential Action, Health Action International, Health Gap, Knowledge Ecology International, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Oxfam International and Third World Network) wrote an open letter to WHO Member States highlighting the importance of this issue in these terms:

“We also call your attention on the document A62/16 Add.3 where the results of informal consultations among some Member States on stakeholders are presented. We are surprised that WHO has been removed as stakeholder in action 2.3(c) that “encourages further exploratory discussions in the utility of possible instruments or mechanisms for essential health and biomedical R&D, including inter alia, an essential health and biomedical R&D treaty.”
We are now more than seven years after the 2001 WTO Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, and in the middle of a number of public health crises regarding both innovation and access to essential health technologies. We are facing our third recent alert for a new public health pandemic. There is a clear need for a discussion on what global norms for biomedical research and development are necessary. The WHO is the UN agency with the global mandate for health. It unacceptable that there would be any opposition to the WHO having a role in taking forward discussions on what global norms should be contained in a proposal for a biomedical R&D treaty.”

This morning David Hohman (talking on behalf of the US delegation, from State
Department) said that while they do not oppose the discussion of a biomedical R&D treaty, they think governments and NGO should be the only stakeholders and they oppose WHO having any implementing stakeholder role.

The position of the US and the EU is close to paralyzing WHO Member States capacity to reach an agreement on the outstanding elements of resolution WHA 61.21 that contains a landmark Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.

The Global Strategy and Plan of Action is a unique document that has the potential to address public health needs with respect to innovation and access. We urge Member States, when finalizing the Plan of Action, to ensure that WHO is given an adequate mandate to advance this strategy. This will require that WHO adopts new approaches and has the ability to explore new ideas.

For more information, please contact, Knowledge Ecology International
Jamie Love +41 76 413 6584
Judit Rius: +41 76 232 7291
Thiru Balasubramaniam: +41 76 508 09 97