With the support of the Government of South Africa, the World Economic Forum on Africa was held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 8 to 10 May. Over 1,000 participants from more than 80 countries took part. Under the theme ‘Delivering on Africa’s Promise’, the meeting’s agenda integrated three pillars: accelerating economic diversification; boosting strategic infrastructure; and unlocking Africa’s talent. The main message to emerge from the event was the need for investment to consolidate and make more inclusive recent African growth. Participants called for greater regional integration, as well as investments in social entrepreneurship and industry to promote inclusive growth and fight poverty, while others argued that Africa needs to offer better enabling environments for industrialisation to capitalise on opportunities, like the fact that China’s workforce will shed 85 million jobs in the near term. Another participant said that leaders needed to realise that Africa’s true wealth lay in its people, not in its mineral deposits.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
The World Health Assembly adopted a resolution that urges member states to improve coordination at the national level between international trade and public health, requesting the World Health Organization (WHO) to help its member states to do this. The resolution calls for governments to promote a better dialogue on trade and health, and gives health ministries a place at the table with other government agencies involved in trade issues, establishing mechanisms to enable this.
After much discussion and hard-won willingness to shift positions on what a chair referred to as a “difficult resolution,” member states concluded the 2007 World Health Assembly on 23 May with the adoption of an agreement on innovation of medicines and intellectual property. But it was done without support from the United States, the biggest medicines innovator. The resolution requests the World Health Organization (WHO) to get more involved in supporting member states using trade law to improve access to treatments, and to encourage discussion of new incentive mechanisms for research and development (R&D), such as addressing the link between the cost of R&D and the price of medicines.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan at the 61st World Health Assembly, raised intellectual property issues optimistically, as an opportunity for the organisation to make a difference. Chan highlighted a report due out later this year from the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which she 'should help us address the root causes of inequities with greater precision'. She then commended members for the 'tremendous progress' made in meetings of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation, and Intellectual Property (IGWG).
This report presents the latest trends in patents, trademarks and copyrights. Patents, which are of direct relevance to drug prices and procurement, showed a slowdown in growth rate, with fewer patent filings and grants. In 2007, patent filings increased 3.7%, compared to a 5.2% increase in the previous year. Despite this slowdown, around 1.85 million applications were filed across the world in 2007. The figures show the early effects of the global economic downturn on patent filings and the available data for 2008 point toward a further slowdown in patent filings. Patent filings and grants have also become more concentrated. In other words, the majority of patent filings are from residents of industrialised countries and there is a strong relationship between the volume of patent filings and the level of GDP and investment in research and development. Residents of Japan and the United States own approximately 47% of the 6.3 million patents in force across the world. Since the late 1990s, patent filings have grown at a faster rate than patent grants (or rejections) in most offices, most notably at the patent office of the US. As a result, the number of unexamined (pending) patent applications has increased.
Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, calls the failure of the G8 to live up to their promises a "scandalous betrayal". The triumphalism of Gleneagles has given way to shattered dreams and broken promises. At Gleneagles, the G8 promised to cancel the debt of some poor countries and to double development assistance to Africa by 2010. Both initiatives would provide resources for treating people with AIDS. Tragically, too little was promised at Gleneagles; even less has been delivered. By the time G8 leaders reconvened at St Petersburg this month, another 3 million people had perished from AIDS-related diseases.
On 19 September, the World Health Organization released a new report that reaffirms the world is running out of antibiotics to fight key and deadly infections due to the fast pace of resistance by bacteria and the lack of new antibiotics to replace or supplement the existing antibiotics. Most new drugs in the pipeline are only modifications of existing classes of antibiotics and are short term solutions, says the WHO. And there are very few potential treatment options for antibiotic resistant infections causing the greatest health threats including resistant TB. This article by TWN explore the issue and the level of (under)investment in new treatments. It argues further for improved infection prevention and control and for fostering appropriate use of existing and future antibiotics.
"We denounce the unsustainable situation of debt in poor countries of the world, and the coercive use by governments, multinational corporations and international financial institutions. We strongly demand the total and unconditional cancellation and rejection of the illegitimate debts of the Third World. As a preliminary condition for the satisfaction of the fundamental economic, social, cultural and political rights, we also demand the restitution of the longstanding plunder of the Third World. We especially support the struggle of the African peoples and their social movements. Once again we raise our voices against the G8 Summit and the meetings of the IMF and World Bank, who bear the greatest responsibility for the plunder of entire communities. We reject the imposition of regional and bilateral free-trade agreements such as FTAA, NAFTA, CAFTA, AGOA, NEPAD, Euro-Med, AFTA and ASEAN."
This report examines the range of contingency measures available in trade agreements and the role that these measures play. These measures allow governments a certain degree of flexibility within their trade commitments and can be used to address circumstances that could not have been foreseen when a trade commitment was made. The tension between credible commitments and flexibility is often close to the surface during trade negotiations. One of the main objectives of this report is to analyse whether the World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions provide a balance between supplying governments with necessary flexibility to face difficult economic situations and adequately defining them in a way that limits their use for protectionist purposes. The report also discusses alternative policy options, including the renegotiation of tariff commitments, the use of export taxes, and increases in tariffs up to their legal maximum ceiling or binding.
Confronted with longstanding assertions that World Trade Organization rules intended to bring greater access to medicines to poor countries are not working, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said discontented members should use the annual review of those rules if they have a complaint. In August 2003, the WTO General Council called for a resolution to the problem of countries lacking pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities but who need to obtain cheaper medicines through a compulsory license. They created a waiver to the WTO rule that products manufactured under compulsory license must be substantially all for the domestic market. Only Rwanda has so far used the Paragraph 6 process and Lamy said no country had raised any significant concern in the annual review. But an official at the speech questioned the validity of the review process and suggested that no real review had taken place. Health activists have repeatedly said the waiver is too cumbersome to be useful and effective.