Drug companies should not take out patents on their new medicines or enforce patents in poor countries if that is likely to prevent patients from getting them, an influential commission set up by the World Health Organisation said yesterday.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
"Today the G8 has made an unprecedented commitment to health which has the potential to forever change the lives of millions of people in Africa. Disease kills 3.5 million African children under five every year. HIV/AIDS affects more than 25 million African people. Tuberculosis kills 1500 each day. A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth. I welcome the G8's pledge to turn these trends around. The aim of providing near-universal access to AIDS treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS by 2010, combined with prevention and care, has the potential to turn the tide on this epidemic. We already know that treatment can turn a fatal disease into a chronic condition and we have demonstrated that this works in resource-poor countries."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in October 2016 recommended that governments should tax sugary drinks as part of the global campaign against obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. South Africa’s Treasury plans to introduce a tax on sugary drinks in April 2017, while Ireland announced it would also introduce a sugary drinks tax in 2018. “Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.” Taxes that result in a 20% increase or more in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the WHO report, “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs)”. Obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2014. By 2014, almost 40% of adults worldwide were overweight, with 15% of women and 11% of men obese. Meanwhile, diabetes has almost quadrupled since 1980, rising from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. In 2012, 38 million people lost their lives due to NCDs, 16 million or 42% of whom died prematurely – before 70 years – from largely avoidable conditions. More than 80% of people who died prematurely from a NCD were in developing countries. Governments have committed to reduce deaths from NCDs, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda includes a target to reduce premature deaths from diabetes, cancers, heart, and lung diseases by one-third by 2030.
WHO’s handling of issues at the 2007 World Health Assembly, has received sharp criticism from both member states and NGOs for its bias and neglect of traditional priority issues. This article highlights the complaints of developing country members.
Proposals by the US government to re-divert aid funding to pay for the debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries have been criticized by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). It is understood that the US Treasury Department is going to call for 100% debt cancellation for highly indebted poor countries. However the American proposal calls for the debt relief to be offset against new aid funding for the poverty-stricken countries. Henry Northover, Public Policy Analyst, CAFOD, said: "It's not so much a 100% debt cancellation as a 100% debt makeover. Debt cancellation for the worlds poorest must be paid for by the world's richest."
Member governments of the World Health Organisation (WHO) ended a week of intensive negotiations on a global strategy and plan of action to improve access to health care in developing countries, in particular, health research and development on diseases disproportionately affecting developing countries. The negotiations at the WHO Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights, chaired by Peter Oldham of Canada, were suspended on 10 November evening to resume again at a meeting tentatively set for 28 April to 3 May 2008. At the six-day talks, the negotiators are reported to have made some progress in a few areas, but with considerable and difficult negotiations ahead to agree and draw up "a global strategy and plan of action".
The technical symposium on ‘Access to Medicines, Patent Information and Freedom to Operate’, held on 18 February 2011 in Switzerland, was hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and co-organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). According to Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director-General, countries could save about 60% of their pharmaceutical expenditures by shifting from originator medicines to generic medicines, but a lack of essential procurement and regulatory capacities are preventing this shift in many developing countries. This is especially so in relation to non-communicable diseases, which is a growing problem in low and middle income countries. She called for more transparent and accessible data on patents to help with decisions on the ‘freedom to operate’, such as a user-friendly database that contains public information on the administrative status of health-related patents. Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General, said the main aim of the symposium was not to enter policy discussions or legal debates but rather to evaluate the area where the three agencies could collaborate to provide an information base for policy debates. He argued for a move from raw data to accessible, trusted, neutral and relevant information that directs policymaking processes, practical innovation and procurement strategies. However, some participants at the symposium called for greater involvement of the generic industry to provide affordably priced medicines, and questioned the legitimacy of WIPO involvement in public health.
More than twenty technology companies are responding to a call to support the fight against counterfeit medicines spearheaded by the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners. They were to join the IMPACT Working Group on Technology for a one-day meeting in Prague to assess technologies which could improve the global prevention, tracking and detection of counterfeit medicines. "In the case of anti counterfeiting, the challenges we face are finding technologies that cannot themselves be counterfeited and transferring them to resource poor settings at an affordable cost. While technology alone cannot solve the problem, some of these solutions could greatly enhance the ability to detect and deter the distribution of counterfeit medicines."
On 26 February 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) presented their trilateral publication ‘Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation’ to the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (included in last month’s newsletter). Promoted by the three organisations as ‘neutral’ and ‘informative’, the report came in for criticism from delegates from developing countries. On behalf of the Africa Group, Algeria said that while the study recognises that there are some limitations to the use of patent flexibilities, it does not look at the constraints developing countries encounter when using the flexibilities. Furthermore, many African countries lacked resources to meet all the formal requirements needed to implement flexibilities. Algeria highlighted the African and Developing Agenda Group (DAG) joint proposal on a patents and health work programme, which calls for further research, information exchange and technical assistance for least-developed countries (LDCs). Delegates from India and Brazil also called for further research into TRIPS flexibilities, arguing that the report had not done enough in this regard.
Developing countries have voiced concerns at a meeting of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) over the Secretariat using the term ‘counterfeit’ to describe problems relating to the quality, safety and efficacy of medical products, and addressing such problems through the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeit Taskforce (IMPACT). Some countries felt the WHO's anti-counterfeit taskforce, IMPACT, was unsuited to address the issue of quality, safety and efficacy (QSE) of medical products because it lacked a mandate from the WHO's governing bodies; and because of its emphasis on counterfeits; the involvement of the private sector in its activities raising issues of conflict of interest; and its lack of transparency.’