Tuesday, May 30, 2006
GENEVA , May 29 (IPS) – The World Health Assembly concluded its annual session over the weekend with the adoption of a resolution that could change the concept of drug R&D, and open the door to a system that gives the world’s poor greater access to medicines.
The resolution approved by the Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), urges the 192 member states to make the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals a strategic sector, thus committing themselves to making R&D of medicines consistent with public interest needs a priority.
This was the response of health ministers at last week’s meeting in Geneva to the concerns of developing countries and humanitarian non-governmental organisations, which criticised the tendency of transnational pharmaceutical companies to concentrate their R&D efforts on diseases prevalent in affluent countries.
The Assembly resolution is probably one of the most important ever taken on this issue, because it paves the way for a debate on intellectual property rights with respect to drugs, to take place over the next 10 or 15 years, the associate director of WHO’s essential medicines programme, Germ?n Vel?squez, told IPS.
The decision will also have repercussions for patenting mechanisms regulated by agreements of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the director of the U.S.-based non-governmental Consumer Project on Technology, James Love, told IPS.
In the case of the WTO, patent regulations are contained in the Agreement on Trade- Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Activists frequently refer to the “10/90 gap”, according to which only 10 percent of investment in R&D of new drugs is aimed at the so-called “orphan diseases,” which afflict 90 percent of the world population who live in the developing South.