EB 136 WHO Special Session: Unanimous Ebola Resolution [finally reached on Sunday]

On Sunday January 25, 2015, the WHO Executive Board unanimously approved the resolution, “Ebola: Ending the current outbreak, strengthening global preparedness, and ensuring WHO capacity to prepare for and respond to future large-scale outbreaks and emergencies with health consequences.” Though unanimous in the end, negotiations for the resolution took 4 days, the Friday session lasting until 5:45am on Saturday morning.

The agreed upon text addressed the challenges and shortcomings the WHO has experienced during the current outbreak of ebola, and outlined steps to be taken to end the current outbreak and to ensure that the WHO is adequately prepared in comparable crises in the future.

The resolution contained several sections which featured language that advances key access to medicines concepts, for example:

(PP12) Reaffirming the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health Innovation and Intellectual Property [GS/PoA];

(PP13) Acknowledging that there is a linkage between addressing Ebola, including the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases, and the global strategy and plan of action on the public health, innovation and intellectual property and a pooled fund of global health research and development;

The resolution further highlighted the GS/PoA and pooled funds for global health R&D in the search for sustainable solutions to future health crises and disease outbreaks:

(OP45) Recognizes further the need to incorporate lessons learned from the EVD outbreak into the evaluation of the global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property and considers, as appropriate, the linkage to pooled funds for global health research and development to facilitate the development of quality, safe, effective, affordable health technologies related to the needs of affected countries and calls on Member States for securing sustainable financing for health research and development on emerging and neglected tropical diseases, including Ebola, and enhancing access to health products and medical devices to address the health needs of developing countries;

In the Research and Development section of the resolution, the WHO Executive Board encouragingly included language on delinkage, stating:

Calls on Member States to continue to collaborate as appropriate, on models and approaches that support the delinkage of the cost of new research and development from the prices of medicines, vaccines, and other diagnostics for Ebola and other emerging and neglected tropical diseases, so as to ensure their sustained accessibility, affordability, availability, and access to treatment for all those in need.

While containing strong language on these issues, the Ebola resolution agreed upon on Sunday also gave insight into WHO reforms that left lingering questions and concerns. One such reform is a contingency fund for disease outbreak emergencies, though the resolution left the size, scope, sustainability, operations, and sources of financing, as well as accountability of the fund for the Director-General to explore options. The resolution also called for capacity building, retention, and actionable surge of health workers in a crisis, while not providing details about how member states would carry this measure out, or fund it.

Although the unanimous Ebola resolution was a strong show of solidarity for the WHO EB, it left many questions on the table as to how the reality will play out.