WHA Agrees On Drafting Of Roadmap For Access To Medicines And Vaccines

[Note: Read the full story on Intellectual Property Watch, www.ip-watch.org.]

The World Health Assembly this week agreed on a roadmap to be designed by the World Health Organization in consultation with member states to facilitate access to medicines and vaccines, including actions and activities for the period 2019-2023. If everyone agrees access to medicines and vaccines is indispensable for universal health coverage, views are still divided when it comes to intellectual property rights. The ranks of strong proponents of IP resulting in high prices are however thinning. The United States remains unshakeable, criticising compulsory licences used by countries to ensure affordable medicines are available.

 

The decision [pdf] was already agreed upon by members of the WHO Executive Board (EB) in January. The WHO said today a preliminary draft of the roadmap would be available by early November. The roadmap is expected to be presented first to the January 2019 EB, then to the 72th World Health Assembly.

The 71th World Health Assembly is taking place from 21-26 May.

Some 60 countries took the floor on 22 May to express their position on the issue of addressing the global shortage of, and access to, medicines and vaccines. The decision on the roadmap was overwhelmingly supported although positions remained polarised when it comes to intellectual property.

A number of countries underlined the importance and necessity of technology transfer and support for local production of medicines and vaccines, and many countries asked for more transparency in prices and in the pharmaceutical value chain, such as Portugal, the Netherlands, Bangladesh for the south East Asia region, Malaysia, and Thailand. Others suggested that the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) be extended to all patented medicines in the WHO essential medicines list, such as Bangladesh and Malaysia, and Switzerland saying the idea has merit.

Some countries mentioned the importance of the flexibilities included in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to facilitate access to medicines, such as Zambia on behalf of the African Group, Barbados, and Colombia.

Bangladesh said shortage of medicines and vaccines is an immediate global concern, which needs urgent action. He added that information on shortages collected at the global level in a timely manner would help.

Bangladesh stressed the fact that developing countries do not have sufficient pharmaceutical production capacity, and shortages raise opportunities for substandard and falsified products. The delegate cited the report of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Access to Medicines (HLP), and its recommendations, which he said “should be taken to a logical conclusion.” He also called for transparency and accountability throughout the value chain.

Malaysia also called for price transparency, and asked the WHO to support capacity building for developing countries to establish a fair pricing model. Malaysia suggested the Medicines Patent Pool licensing be extended to middle-income countries.

 

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