Agreement Reached On IP And Public Health Resolution At WHO

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A technical group at the World Health Assembly today agreed on a resolution that will increase the worldwide research and development focus on diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries. Brazil and Kenya, which have been driving the issue, welcomed the resolution, which is expected to be adopted tomorrow, 27 May.

The text of the resolution is not yet available but will be distributed at the meeting on 27 May by the World Health Organization (WHO), the chair of the group, Gaudenz Silberschmidt of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, told Intellectual Property Watch.

He said it is “a text without a single square bracket,” leading him to conclude that, “we got the results.” He declined to comment further on the content.

The original resolution draft was presented on 25 May by the chair and merges two key IP resolutions that have been forwarded to the Health Assembly: One a proposal by Brazil and Kenya for a global framework on essential health research and development (EB117 R13) and another resolution based on a report published by a WHO Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH) (IPW, Public Health, 3 April 2006). That resolution would have established a working group to develop a global strategy and plan of action.

The revised draft resolution from 26 May called for the establishment of an “intergovernmental working group open to all interested members states to develop a global strategy and plan of action to provide a medium-term framework [to implement/based on] the recommendations of the [CIPIH] commission [taking into consideration WHO’s comparative advantage].”

Some have questioned the need for references to both a strategy and a plan. But others said that a strategy is needed in order to develop a plan.

“It’s very good, we are very happy,” a Brazilian official said, adding that the resolution focuses on research and development. One issue that had been debated was whether it should refer to diseases in general, neglected diseases or something broader such as “health problems,” which was in discussion earlier in the day, sources said.

But the Brazilian official said they had settled for “diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries,” which reflects the CIPIH report.

Another contentious issue in the draft resolution were references to flexibilities as stated in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). In the revised draft resolution from 26 May, member states are urged to, “[encourage that bilateral trade agreements take into account the flexibilities contained in the WTO TRIPS Agreement and recognized by the Doha Ministerial Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.]”

Some participants said that on the request of the European Commission the word “bilateral” had been dropped in the agreed-to text.

A Kenyan official told Intellectual Property Watch that the resolution is “a good beginning for a lot of work that is going to come in the future.” He welcomed the fact that with the resolution they have managed to draw attention to the health problems in developing countries.

The official said that the United States had taken most issue with reference to patents and intellectual property rights in general in the draft, but all of the references to TRIPS that were in the 26 May draft appear to be still in the final version. “Not a single paragraph has been deleted,” the Kenyan official said.

An official from a developed country said that there had been a good spirit among the negotiators and that the Brazilians had even referred to the language in the draft resolution as “beautiful wording.”

Commenting on the resolution some hours before it was agreed to, Matti Rajala of the European Commission Health and Consumer Protection Directorate told Intellectual Property Watch that as always the resolution was likely to be a compromise and he was sure there would be some non-governmental organisations that would be “extremely disappointed.” He also believed it was a good idea not to mention “neglected diseases” as there is no document defining what constitutes a neglected disease.

What’s In and What’s out

The proposed draft resolution that the chair drafted on 25 May contained an annex with language from the respective resolutions that was taken out when they were combined. The annex did not appear in the 26 May version.

Participants said some language was removed due to overlaps from combining the two draft resolutions. A comparison of the resolutions shows duplicate references to the setting up of an intergovernmental committee, and the link between intellectual property, high prices and access. There also was some overlap in references to TRIPS flexibilities, although the 26 May draft focused on preserving these flexibilities in bilateral trade deals and not in general as some of the deleted language did.

Deleted language with no apparent overlap may have been removed because it was controversial. This might include language “recognising the importance of making global health and medicines a strategic sector;” and references to open access to public research such as the Human Genome Project and open access models in general. It might also include references to the public domain (“proper balance between intellectual property rights and the public domain”), and to the public interest (“imperative to reconcile the public interest in accessing the products and derived from new knowledge with the public interest in stimulating invention”), a global appeal from 2,500 scientists, and the importance of the WHO’s regional committees to include the CIPIH report in their agendas.

Trade and Health Resolution Stumbles

Followers of intellectual property-related issues at the assembly listened diligently through the delayed agenda today waiting for the discussion of another IP resolution: International trade and health (EB117 R5).

This resolution suggests that there should be greater collaboration and correlation between trade and health ministers and their respective work at the national level.

This resolution was unanimously adopted at the WHO Executive Board meeting in January and a number of delegations, including many developing countries, voiced their support for the resolution today as well. There were, however a few suggestions to add new language and as the United States said it did not have the mandate to agree on the suggestions without consulting its capital, the secretariat said that a new document incorporating the changes would be distributed on 27 May.

Among the changes was a proposal from Turkey to include language on “taking special problems of transition countries into consideration.” Venezuela and India also suggested changes. One suggested change was to create an intergovernmental group for trade and health, sources said.

The US supported the resolution but said that the WHO should advise member states on trade in an “unbiased and evidence-based” manner, and clear it with the WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

There were also some heated exchanges between Cuba and the United States, with Cuba blaming the United States’ trade embargo for health problems such as lack of access to medicines in Cuba. The US representative took issue with the “outrageous attack” made by Cuba, calling them unfortunate and saying that the claims had nothing to do with the debate on public health and were “totally, totally unacceptable by my government.”

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