World Health Assembly Tackles Intellectual Property, Noncommunicable Diseases, and More

May 29, 2008
Angie Drakulich

Angie Drakulich was editorial director of Pharmaceutical Technology.

ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

Last week, 2704 delegates representing 190 nations met in Geneva for the 61st World Health Assembly to set a global course for tackling new as well as longstanding threats to public health worldwide. The assembly?s biggest breakthrough focused on adopting a resolution that encourages research and development (R&D) as well as access to medicines for people living in developing countries, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) release.

Geneva, Switzerland (May 29)-Last week, 2704 delegates representing 190 nations met in Geneva for the 61st World Health Assembly to set a global course for tackling new as well as longstanding threats to public health worldwide. The assembly’s biggest breakthrough focused on adopting a resolution that encourages research and development (R&D) as well as access to medicines for people living in developing countries, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) release.

In early May, an intergovernmental working group agreed on approximately 200 paragraphs of a global strategy and plan of action aimed at essential R&D for diseases that disproportionately affect developing nations. The working group began two years ago when WHO member states decided to address shortfalls in R&D for noncommunicable diseases and to overcome the rich nation–poor nation arguments over patent laws, which developing countries claim prevent their populations from accessing affordable, life-saving drugs.

Last week, assembly delegates tackled the remaining 20 unresolved paragraphs of the global strategy, working into the weekend to finally agree upon the Public Health, Innovation, and Intellectual Property Strategy. Aimed at removing intellectual property barriers so that essential R&D for public health can move forward, the globally strategy, which is part of the adopted overall resolution, is designed “to promote new approaches to pharmaceutical R&D…to enhance access to medicines…[and] to provide a medium-term framework for enhancing and making sustainable essential R&D relevant to diseases impacting developing countries.”

As part of the resolution, delegates also endorsed a six-year action plan for fighting noncommunicable diseases, which caused 60% of all deaths globally in 2005 (approximately 35 million deaths), according to WHO.

“This is a contribution to fairness in health and this is proactive public health at its very best,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, at the close of the assembly on Saturday.

Chan is tasked with finalizing the outstanding components of the intellectual property resolution, including timeframes, progress indications, and estimated funding needs. She is also to finalize a plan of action to boost incentives for pharmaceutical companies to tackle diseases that mainly afflict the poor, according to Reuters.

The assembly will review both plans at its May 2009 session.

Among other issues discussed at the assembly were climate change, including commitments from nations to scale up adaptation projects that would limit the impacts of climate change on health; the eradication of polio; preparation for an influenza pandemic; migrant health; progress on the Millennium Development Goals; and a global immunization strategy that involves encouraging nations to develop new vaccines.

Read more about the World Health Assembly proceedings.

Read more Pharmaceutical Technology coverage of this issue:

Pharma Impacted by UN Agency's Public Health Debates, May 20, 2008.