[Ip-health] WHO Director General: No Government Should Be Intimidated By Interested Parties

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Jan 24 06:28:15 PST 2014



WHO Director General: No Government Should Be Intimidated By Interested

Published on 24 January 2014 @ 2:39 pm

By Catherine Saez <http://www.ip-watch.org/author/catherine/>, Intellectual
Property Watch

Discussions on access to essential medicines yesterday at the World Health
Organization were in some ways overshadowed by the recent leak of a global
pharmaceutical campaign aimed at derailing efforts by the South African
government to revise its intellectual property policy. WHO Director General
Margaret Chan strongly supported South Africa, as did several developing
countries, while developed countries remained silent on the subject.

On the agenda of the 134th session of the WHO Executive Board (EB), meeting
from 20-25 January, was an item on access to essential medicines. The
secretariat submitted a
on activities, such as supporting universal health coverage, monitoring and
the use of information, rational use of medicines, antimicrobial
resistance, innovation and the local production of medicines, and access to
medicines for noncommunicable diseases. The report was commended by member

However, feeding the discussion was the recent effort by some
pharmaceutical companies to undermine efforts of the South African
government to amend its IP laws, revealed through a leaked document bluntly
titled, “Campaign to Prevent Damage to Innovation from the Proposed Draft
National IP Policy in South Africa,” (*IPW*, Public Health, 22 January

South Africa received support from many developing countries, such as
Namibia, Brazil, Cuba, India, Argentina, Nigeria, Bolivia, and Zimbabwe,
which qualified the incident as an “unfortunate attack on a sovereign state
and an attack on the right to life in the interest of profit.” The delegate
called on WHO to be diligent in its approach with dealing with non-state
actors (*IPW*, WHO, 24 January

Precious Matsoso, director-general of health of the South African Ministry
of Health, and former head of the WHO programme on Public Health,
Innovation and Intellectual Property, delivered an emotional
She said one of the objectives of the new South African IP policy is to
contribute towards the protection and promotion of public health, and
access to medicines in particular.”

“This is not the first time that South Africa has been under such an
attack, even in the face of the most devastating HIV/Aids and TB
co-morbidities,” in 2000, she said. “We’ve seen this attack whereby Nelson
Mandela was the first respondent,” she added.

The cost of combination antiretroviral therapy per person per annum was
brought down from US$ 10,000 to US$ 1,000 since 2000, she said. “This would
not have been possible without generic competition,” she said, adding that
South Africa has been able to put 2.4 million people on treatment. However,
only 4 percent of South Africans are on second line antiretroviral therapy
and that number must be increased to 14 percent, she insisted. This
increase will not be possible at current costs for South Africa, she said.

“Generic competition has been the main driver of affordable medicines,”
Matsoso said, noting that Canada, through its Bolar provision is “such an
example” for having introduced early generic entry. The new South African
policy that is under discussion will promote competition and ensure the
levelling of the playing field, she said, adding*,* “We’ve seen IP reforms
can really make a difference.”

The IP reform includes patent examination, said Matsoso, which is common
practice in Europe, the United States, India and Brazil. “In all these
countries poor quality patents are rejected. For instance, both the US and
European Patent Office have rejected 40 percent of these applications when
in South Africa, we actually approved all of them,” she remarked. She also
said South Africa welcomed WHO technical support on policy reforms
proposals in defence of public health. She ended her statement under a
sustained round of applause.

Chan supported South Africa. She reminded delegates of the WHO 12th general
programme of work<http://www.who.int/about/resources_planning/A66_6_en.pdf?ua=1>,
approved by member states, and its paragraphs 97, 98 and 99 on increasing
access to essential, high-quality, effective and affordable medical

“I have been following the event in South Africa and I was very struck by
what is happening and I have said so in other contexts and I will repeat
again: no government should be intimidated by interested parties for doing
the right thing in public health” she said. WHO, at the request of the
South African government has commented on the draft policy. Chan thanked
governments for their solidarity with South Africa and stated that “nobody
should be denied access to life-saving intervention or medical products.”

Nicoletta Dentico, co-director of Health Innovation in Practice (HIP) said,
“I found it politically embarrassing, and disquieting that, during the EB
discussion, not one single delegate from the industrialised North took the
floor to express a word of solidarity towards the government of South

*Draft Resolution on Access*

A draft resolution<http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB134/B134_CONF14-en.pdf>
on access to essential medicines, not yet adopted, was put forward by
China, Libya, South Korea and South Africa.

The draft resolution calls on the WHO to “provide, as appropriate, upon
request, in collaboration with other competent international organizations,
technical support, including, where appropriate, to policy processes, to
Member States that intend to make use of the provisions contained in the
TRIPS agreement, including the flexibilities recognized by the Doha
Ministerial Declaration on the TRIPS agreement and Public Health and other
WTO instruments related to TRIPS agreement, in order to promote access to
essential medicines, in accordance with the Global Strategy and Plan of
Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.”

*Shortages, Affordability: Barriers to Access*

Other concerns on access to essential medicines were voiced by developing
countries who said that it is a pressing issue, citing affordability,
shortages of medical products, and rational use of medicines.

Namibia, on behalf of the African region, said the most important barrier
to access to essential medicines is affordability. The delegate called on
WHO to support member states’ efforts to use of the flexibilities included
in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Brazil also underlined the use of TRIPS flexibilities. TRIPS should not
prevent member states from taking measures to protect public health and
guarantee access, the delegate said.

Qatar underlined that shortage of medicines as a dire problem. The delegate
said market changes can affect generic medicines as generic companies do
not have incentive to produce them.

*NGOs, Pharma Focus on Use, Civil Society on IP*

The International Pharmaceutical Federation
the shortage of medicines and said that an independent report found that
US$500 billion could be saved annually if responsible use of medicines were

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders), in its
it is “concerned by the lack of attention in the Secretariat’s report on
the impact intellectual property has on the affordability and accessibility
of medicines, and how this affects the inclusion of new treatments in
essential medicines lists.”

“The intersection between intellectual property, innovation and public
health is recognized in a number of WHO resolutions and in the TRIPS
Agreement. Yet it remains a challenge for WHO member states, especially
developing countries, to use these flexibilities when drafting intellectual
property policies that aim to promote access to affordable essential
medicines,” said the MSF representative. MSF also underlined IP clauses
included in trade negotiations initiated by the United States and the EU.

Medicus Mundi International, a network of organisations working in the
field of international health cooperation and advocacy, underlined the
underfunding of the WHO programme on essential medicines.

A group of NGOs published a suggested draft
on access to essential medicines.

Chan noted the points made by the NGO community, and told member states,
“if these works is so important to you why are they left unfunded. This is
a question you need to reflect on.”

*Julia Fraser, an intern with Intellectual Property Watch, contributed to
this story.*

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