[Ip-health] New WHO Director-General Embraces Universal Coverage, Cancer Focus Urged

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu May 25 01:11:30 PDT 2017


New WHO Director-General Embraces Universal Coverage, Cancer Focus Urged

on MAY 24, 2017 · in BLOG

Fran Quigley, in Geneva

In his first press conference as director-general-elect of the World Health
Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today made his core mission
clear. “As I traveled in recent months, the message I heard around the
world was that health is a rights issue,” he said. “What the world promised
in 1948 when the WHO was instituted still is true today. That means that
all roads should lead to universal coverage.”

Those will be challenging roads to travel, Dr. Tedros—he is known by his
first name—acknowledged in his acceptance speech last night to the World
Health Assembly. “Only about half of the world’s population have access to
healthcare without impoverishment,” he said to the delegates who elected
him to be the first African to lead the WHO. “That needs to improve

As for his plans to achieve that improvement, Dr. Tedros has spoken only in
generalities so far. But some civil society advocates were immediately
ready to provide a specific plan for his tenure.

One of the most deadly gaps in global healthcare is in access to cancer
treatment, the world’s second leading cause of death. So representatives
from Knowledge Ecology International, Union for Affordable Cancer
Treatment, and Medicines Law and Policy came together the morning after his
election to call on Dr. Tedros to prioritize the availability of cancer
care to all patients in need.

Noting that cancer medicines can cost in excess of $100,000 per year, Manon
Ress of UACT, herself a Stage IV cancer patient, said the treatment gap is
growing in both poor and wealthier countries. “Governments are telling us
that it is too expensive to buy the medicines, and their response is
rationing,” she said. “Patients cannot accept that.”

Ress, along with KEI’s James Love and Medicines Law and Policy’s Ellen
t’Hoen, expressed optimism that Dr. Tedros would follow the recommendations
of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines,
whose report he praised in his press conference. In a January, 2017 letter
to Lancet, Dr. Tedros referenced two core components of the High-Level
Panel suggestions: full use of compulsory licenses to manufacture generic
versions of high-cost medicines, and the philosophy of delinking medicine
prices from the cost of research.

A resolution on cancer medicines prices expected to be passed by WHA in the
coming days is not as strong as the advocates had hoped for, but they
believe it still provides Dr. Tedros with a platform for bold action. “This
gives Dr. Tedros a decent mandate for going forward with a report on
delinkage, if he is really willing to try something different to address
the cancer treatment crisis,” Love said.

Fran Quigley is a clinical professor and director of the Health and Human
Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law. He is the
Health and Human Rights Journal correspondent at the World Health Assembly,
May 2017.

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