Views on the 60th World Health Assembly IGWG resolution

On 23 May 2007, the 60th World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s highest governing body, adopted resolution WHA60.30 on Public health, innovation and intellectual property. This resolution bolstered the work program of WHO’s Intergovernmental Working Group on Public health, innovation and intellectual property (IGWG/PHI). This is the key operative section of the resolution, and the reactions by several key persons.

3. REQUESTS the Director-General:
(1) to ensure technical and financial support to the Intergovernmental Working Group in order to facilitate completion of its tasks in time for its report to the Sixty-first World Health Assembly;
(2) to provide as appropriate, upon request, in collaboration with other competent international organizations, technical and policy support to countries that intend to make use of the flexibilities contained in the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and other international agreements in order to promote access to pharmaceutical products,1 and to implement the Doha Ministerial Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and other WTO instruments;
(3) to provide technical and financial support for regional consultative meetings in order to set regional priorities that will inform the work of the Intergovernmental Working Group;
(4) to encourage the development of proposals for health-needs driven research and development for discussion at the Intergovernmental Working Group that includes a range of incentive mechanisms including also addressing the linkage of the cost of research and development 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;
(5) to prepare background documents on each of the eight proposed elements of the plan of action, as identified by the Intergovernmental Working Group, including:
* a matrix on ongoing activities and current gaps;
* a matrix on current proposals referring to key stakeholders;
* the financial implications of those proposals.

KEI has collected a sample of quotes from delegates, trade experts and public health campaigners on WHA60.30 which is presented below.

Santiago Luis Bento Fernandez Alcazar, Minister, Head of the Department of International Affairs, Ministry of Health Brazil

I think that what was achieved in Geneva last week was especially important. WHO has an increasing role on the question of intellectual property. The full commitment and support of the DG in the IGWG process is now guaranteed. That is not a minor achievement. We are very confident that the IGWG is back on track.

Dr. A.E. Ogwell, Head, International Health Relations, Ministry of Health
Kenya

The resolution certainly helps to move this process forward. There are no “winners” and “losers” here. It is the IGWG process that got a strong and positive boost!

Maximiliano Santa Cruz, Counsellor at the Chilean Mission to the World Trade Organization

This resolution will provide new impetus to push the process forward and reflects a strong commitment of the Secretariat to the IGWG process. It is valuable that WHO members have understood the necessity to complement the intellectual property system with other incentives, and innovative means to fund R & D in a sustainable manner. I would like to commend Brazil, Canada, the African Group, Norway, Switzerland, Namibia and the EU for the flexibility shown and for coming forward with creative language.

Thiru Balasubramaniam, Knowledge Ecology International

The 60th World Health Assembly is taking another important step to change the way the WHO and Member States deal with innovation and access.
The World Health Assembly adopted language that requests the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to encourage the development of proposals for health-needs driven R&D, including those “addressing the linkage between paying for the cost of R&D and the prices” of medicines, vaccines, diagnostic tools and other health care products.

A number of NGOs, academic experts and country negotiators (including Brazil, Chile, Canada and Norway) say that separating the price of pharmaceuticals from the systems for paying for R&D can lead to more equitable health care outcomes, and less rationing of medicines.
The African Group, the European Union and Switzerland played a constructive role in these debates. We acknowledge the mediating role of the Namibian chair and the aforementioned delegations in resurrecting the spirit of Geneva and clearing the path forward for the WHO IGWG to develop new systems for paying for R&D that are not linked to the prices of medicines. Examples of such approaches are direct government funding of research, and rewards like prizes, that operate independent from drug prices.

Ellen ‘t Hoen, MSF Access to Essential Medicines Campaign

This World Health Assembly was an important step in the IGWG process. For the first time we have seen a very strong commitment of the WHO leadership to the IGWG.
By focusing its resolution on the linkage of paying for the cost of R&D and medicines prices the World Health Assembly has given a very helpful instruction to the IGWG whose mandate it is to resolve the tension between access to medicines and the need for health needs driven innovation.

Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network

The resolution adopted at the close of the 60th World Health Assembly is timely as many Member States have expressed frustration on the slow progress made by the IGWG and the lack of resources dedicated to the process. The resolution is a signal by Member states, that WHO cannot proceed on the basis of “business as usual”. It has to show greater leadership, initiative and commitment on issues of R&D for public health and access to medicines.

Sisule F. Musunge, Innovation for Development, Access to Knowledge and IP Researcher Geneva

This resolution marks another milestone in the enduring efforts by many around the world to concretely and practical address the twin goals of increasing and sustaining funding for R&D and supporting medical innovation, and ensuring access to essential medical technologies, tools and medicines for all. A key problem at the start of the IGWG process was the lack of focus and dedicated leadership within WHO. The outcomes of this 60th WHA addresses both these weakness by giving better focus and direction to the IGWG process and committing the WHO leadership at the highest level to ensure positive outcomes.

Nicoletta Dentico, Policy and advocacy manager, DNDi

For quite a few years, civil society has been advocating for government leadership in the field of essential health innovation and access to lifesaving medical tools, and the last WHA has marked a point of non return in this respect. The political progress achieved in WHO since the debate on innovation and public health started, leading to the creation of the IGWG, cannot in any way be underestimated.

The approval of WHA 60.30 is indeed an encouraging step in the right direction. The road ahead is no doubt uphill, but the diplomatic dynamic behind the approval of the IGWG resolution has clearly shown that governments from both developed and developing countries have captured the unique momentum for change they have, and do not intend to loose it. Now time has come for Member States to look at the definition of healthier policies to respond to global needs, beyond sterile polarizations

Robert Weissman, Director, Essential Action

The existing patent-based system is doing woefully both in incentivizing health-driven R&D and promoting access to essential medicines. The way forward must be to find ways to support innovation that don’t come in the form of monopoly protections and high drug prices. The World Health Assembly resolution will help direct the WHO in pursuit of these new models.