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Media statements

2 June 2006

World Health Assembly agree to work on developing country diseases

The World Health Assembly this weekend agreed to establish an intergovernmental group to develop a global plan on research and development for diseases predominantly affecting developing countries. The agreement reflects a bridging of significant gaps between parties on the issue a few weeks ago.

The South African delegation (comprising a team from the National Department of Health) as well as the delegations from the United States, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland and Thailand, provided constructive and positive contributions.

"This resolution has profound implications for global health and health research," says South African Medical Research Council President Prof Anthony MBewu. "Health research is effectively now recognised as a 'global public good' and both health research and intellectual property are now recognised as important not just to create profit, but also to deal with the diseases of the poor. It's a fantastic breakthrough in global health."

The adopted resolution was based on a working paper which was agreed to on 26 May by a technical group set up at the 22-27 May World Health Assembly. The paper is entitled: "Public health, innovation, essential health research and intellectual property rights: towards a global strategy and plan of action."

The resolution establishes an intergovernmental working group open to all member states to "draw up a global strategy and plan of action in order to provide a medium-term framework based on the recommendations of the commission." This is similar to wording in the CIPIH commission report.

It further suggests that the strategy and plan of action should secure "an enhanced and sustainable basis for needs-driven, essential health research and development relevant to diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries." Priorities and funding needs also should be identified, it states.

The final resolution does not contain language on it being "legally binding" as proposed in the original draft of Brazil and Kenya.

The working group is to report to the 60th World Health Assembly, to be held in one year from now, with the final plan completed by the 61st assembly. The resolution also invites representatives from non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations and others to act as observers of the working group, according to the paper.

A Kenyan official said that "we think we have achieved something" and that although it was not the best, the resolution is a "very good beginning." "It was crucial that we managed to find each other," the official said, and that all countries now "stand together."

Some non-governmental participants have taken issue with the position of the European Commission on the resolutions, which they saw as too close to the position of the pharmaceutical industry (IPW, Public Health, 25 May 2006). A Commission representative told Intellectual Property Watch that he was not aware of undue influence by industry, but questions appear to remain.

He said that the issue of intellectual property had been a "hot potato" particularly for the United States but the agreement means that there now is a "new paradigm for trade."

Love said that since January, the United States had showed support for the idea and had understood that the draft resolution on R&D was not an attack on the United States, which is the largest funder of R&D. It is in the US national interest that other countries participate more in research and development, Love said.

Médecins Sans Frontières also welcomed what it called a "breakthrough" agreement. "For the first time, we're starting to see action that begins to mirror the magnitude of the problems and needs that we witness everyday in our field programmes," Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of R&D at MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said in a statement. "This is a crucial first step that will help put in place new ways of stimulating R&D for health problems that so far industry has ignored"

Adapted from Intellectual Property Watch,

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