[Ip-health] IP-Watch: TRIPS Debated As WHO Board Reaches Agreement On Universal Health Coverage

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Feb 5 07:18:26 PST 2019


TRIPS Debated As WHO Board Reaches Agreement On Universal Health Coverage


World Health Organization Board members agreed last week on a draft
resolution for the preparation of a United Nations General Assembly
high-level meeting on universal health coverage in the fall, following
intensive closed consultations in which intellectual property rights played
a significant role.

The resolution, cosponsored by a large number of countries and adopted by
the WHO Executive Board on 1 February, underlines the slow progress in
achieving universal health coverage in many countries, and calls for WHO
members to promote access to affordable, safe, effective, and quality
medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies.

The resolution also asks member states to support research and development
on medicines and vaccines for communicable and non-communicable diseases,
including neglected tropical diseases, “particularly those that primarily
affect developing countries.” It further calls for “needs driven,
evidence-based, guided by the core principles of affordability,
effectiveness, efficiency and equity, and considered a shared

According to the WHO, universal health coverage means “ensuring that
everyone, everywhere can access essential quality health services without
facing financial hardship.”

The resolution, still a Conference paper [pdf], was adopted by the
Executive Board, which met from 24 January to 1 February. It has to be
adopted by the World Health Assembly, taking place from 20-28 May.

The resolution was originally proposed by Japan and Thailand: After
extensive informal consultations spanning the length of the Board meeting,
the agreed upon version of 1 February was cosponsored by Bangladesh,
Botswana, Canada, China, Finland, Georgia, Indonesia, Japan, Malta, Russia,
Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand and Uruguay.

Other countries joined at the close of the Board meeting, including Mexico,
Brazil, China, the Netherlands, France, Kenya, Benin, Norway, Portugal,
Belgium, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, India, and Moldova.

The WHO was requested by the UN General Assembly “to work in close
collaboration, in consultation with Member States, to prepare for the
meeting with a view to ensuring the most effective and efficient outcomes,
including potential deliverables,” according to the report [pdf] of the WHO
director general on universal health coverage.

IP & Trade Flexibilities

According to sources, mention of the use of flexibilities in the World
Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPS) to facilitate access in an operative paragraph was
the other major source of disagreement during informal sessions.

In an earlier leaked draft [pdf], India, Ecuador, Egypt, and Peru
introduced TRIPS flexibilities as a way to promote better access to
medicines (IPW, WHO, 28 January 2019).

The mention of TRIPS flexibilities no longer appears in the resolution as
something member states should be encouraging, but an introductory
paragraph (PP14) does mentions the TRIPS flexibilities and the 2011 Doha
Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health “which recognizes that
intellectual property rights should be interpreted and implemented in a
manner supportive of the right of Member States to protect public health
and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all, and notes the
need for appropriate incentives in the development of new health products;”

WHO Member States Urged to Be Inclusive

The resolution calls on WHO member states to accelerate progress towards
achieving target 3.8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Target 3.8
states: “Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk
protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to
safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines
for all.”

Reproductive Health: US Blasts Abortion

Separately, another difficult issues of the informal discussions was the
issue of reproductive health, according to sources. On 1 February, The
United States, although joining the consensus, said it wished to be
dissociated from paragraph “PP6,” dealing with sexual and reproductive

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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