[Ip-health] WHO Board Adopts Resolution On Medicines Access After TRIPS Flexibilities Debate

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Jan 25 21:29:38 PST 2014



WHO Board Adopts Resolution On Medicines Access After TRIPS Flexibilities

Published on 25 January 2014 @ 12:29 pm

By William New <http://www.ip-watch.org/author/william/>, Intellectual
Property Watch

The sometimes tense issue of intellectual property rights flexibilities
built into international trade rules on IP briefly threatened to trip up a
proposal on access to medicines today at the World Health Organization. But
members managed to steer the debate to consensus on a text that will now
head to the full membership for approval in May.

The WHO Executive Board is meeting from 20-25 January. The meeting
documents are here <http://apps.who.int/gb/e/e_eb134.html>.

At issue was a proposal,
led by China, with several cosponsors such as Libya, Korea and South
Africa, that urges member states to take a variety of steps to ensure
access to essential medicines. Other nations joined as cosponsors, such as
Brazil, Bangladesh, and Australia.

A slightly modified “non-paper”
was circulated this morning reflecting an informal drafting session last
night – and was adopted with one final modification after debate.

The new draft showed changes in wording recalling previously agreed texts
on flexibilities to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The approved draft
resolution will head to the annual World Health Assembly in May.

The reference to flexibilities is embodied in a pre-existing WHO document,
the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health Innovation and
Intellectual Property (GSPOA), that itself was the subject of intense
negotiation a couple of years ago.

The revised resolution this morning proposed to change references to the
GSPOA from “in accordance with” it, to “as stated in” it. In the end, a
compromise proposed by Brazil was agreed, saying, “in line with.” Some
delegations said they could not see the difference but agreed with any

*Rallying Around South Africa*

The United States led off the discussion by objecting to the proposed
change to “as stated” as not sufficiently capturing the full context of the
GSPOA, which contains language balancing the notion of flexibilities.

The US proposed to add language on the importance of protecting IP rights
for the development of new medicines.

This led to a strong reaction from several developing countries, some of
whom reference the emotional speech of South Africa from earlier in the
week (*IPW*, WHO, 24 January
that in some ways defined this Executive Board meeting.

Egypt said they were “not happy” with the proposed language on IP, saying
that while they recognise the importance of IP, “we are not here discussing
the TRIPS agreement,” and recognise the flexibilities in TRIPS.

Brazil said it was “extremely disappointed” that each time there is a
reference to TRIPS flexibilities this type of situation arises. The
flexibilities are approved, so it should not be that they are questioned
each time, the delegate said. “We heard from South Africa about their
difficulties,” the Brazilian said, adding that they would have hoped it
would resonate “in the hearts and minds” of member states.

South Africa thanked Brazil and said the compromise and this document would
help it with what it is “going through” in South Africa.

Australia (a developed country) said it preferred the original language but
accepted the Brazilian proposal, after stating that Australia too, is
“under some attack in terms of TRIPS flexibilities.” This is presumably a
reference to its efforts to defend a public health policy requiring that
tobacco be sold in plain packaging.

Switzerland said it supported the US proposal, but later accepted the
compromise language after the US did.

Maldives urged passage of the access to medicines resolution as lack of
access to affordable medicines is a critical problem for the country. The
delegate said her “heart goes out” to the people suffering in South Africa
and other states, and that it would be “a disaster” if this resolution
failed over a few words.

Cameroon also urged passage, saying that today it is South Africa or
Australia, tomorrow it will be “our countries.”

Argentina said it is “difficult to express how uncomfortable and concerned”
they are with this situation, in which whenever governments talk about
TRIPS flexibilities there are questions. The delegate referenced the “very
emotional” statement of South Africa.

Panama said that low-income countries continue to suffer difficulties due
the lack of accessibility and availability of medicines.

The United States was then asked by the chair to show flexibility in its
position, which it did, agreeing to support the compromise of “in line
with” with the understanding that it is the full context of the GSPOA.

China remarked that it fully understood why there is a “heated discussion”
on this resolution, and thanked all sides for agreeing.

Officials from China refused to discuss their proposal with the press.

More information about the Ip-health mailing list