WHO Members Agree On Need To Improve IP And Public Health Process30/01/2007 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch 1 CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Much of our best content is available only to IP Watch subscribers. We are a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now.By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen At last week’s meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board, member states expressed dismay with the process of a public health and intellectual property working group and agreed that the spirit they set out with had to be re-found.WHO responded that activities will be stepped up before the next meeting of the group, laying out the next steps including a possible public hearing in late summer.The WHO Intergovernmental Working Group On Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG) was discussed on 26 January as part of the 22-30 January meeting of the 34-member Executive Board. The IGWG met for the first time on 4-8 December 2006, and its mandate is to boost research and development (R&D) into neglected diseases through a voluntary plan that is to be ready by May 2008.During the meeting, a Brazilian official said that the agreement (resolution WHA59.24), on which the working group is based, had been reached “in the spirit of Geneva,” at the World Health Assembly in May 2006, but unfortunately this was not the case for the first meeting in December (IPW, Public Health, 11 December 2006).The Executive Board meeting was supposed to note a progress report on the working group and forward it to the May World Health Assembly. But the issue of intellectual property, innovation and public health became one of the most talked-about items on the board’s agenda.Proposal Prompts Debate; WHO Lays Out Working Group RoadmapDebate was prompted by a proposed draft resolution on immediate action points for the global plan, submitted by Kenya and Switzerland on the first day of the meeting. In the words of Kenya, “informal and very intensive consultations” on the proposal and the IGWG took place throughout the week.The proposal (EB120/Con.Paper No.3) suggested early implementation issues related to the global plan, which could be started immediately and run until May 2008. While two proposed issues were directed to member states, 10 targeted WHO, such as to help developing countries strengthen programmes for health research (IPW, Public Health, 23 January 2007).Kenya and Switzerland did not formally table the proposal after all. Kenya asked to postpone the proposed resolution as informal “consensus has gradually emerged” that it was premature to discuss this resolution at this point. Countries opposing discussion of the resolution argued that time should be spent discussing the process of the IGWG, rather than the technical language of the resolution.But the debate on the process of the IGWG prompted by the proposal during the week, continued. A number of countries argued that the process had to be strengthened and the preparatory process before the next meeting, scheduled for October 2007, improved.Several countries, including Brazil, Kenya, and the United States criticised the December working group, with one delegation arguing it left a negative spirit that needs to be overcome.Kenya said that those who attended the December meeting were “not very happy with the process.” Kenya said the process should move faster, and pointed out that the goal of creating a plan of putting more resources into R&D for neglected diseases was of paramount importance to Africa.“Nothing has changed at all,” a Kenyan official told Intellectual Property Watch. “There was consensus that the speed has not been optimum and there was [a] need to improve the same. The bureau will address this and [the WHO] secretariat will do its part to ensure that IGWG2 [October 2007 meeting] is a success.”WHO Sets Path ForwardAfter member states discussed the IGWG, WHO’s Howard Zucker read out a proposal for the next steps for the group and the process (EB1200/INF.DOC./5). Zucker, assistant director-general for health technology and pharmaceuticals, is in charge of the group together with the “bureau” or officers of the group consisting of Chair Peter Oldham of Canada and five vice-chairs.The plan calls for further comments from governments, formation of a pool of experts and concerned entities, and additional consultations and meetings.A progress report on the December meeting was issued on 25 January, following a 15 January letter asking member states for additional inputs on a global strategy and plan of action, as well as suggestions relating to the pool of experts, by the end of February 2007, according to the document. The inputs and suggestions will be incorporated into a revised working document, which will be available to member states for review in July 2007, according to the document.“The intention is to provide all views from the different players in the documents from [the WHO] secretariat,” the Kenyan official said.Based on the proposals from member states, the WHO director general and the working group officers will “identify a pool of experts and concerned entities, ensuring a balanced representation between regions, developing and developed countries, and female and male experts,” the document said.For August and September, two proposals were made: To hold regional consultations on the working group, with the support of WHO regional offices (there are six of them), and possibly, with the opportunity for identified experts to participate, as well as hold a second Internet-based public hearing (the first was on 1-15 November 2006 (IPW, Public Health, 27 October 2006).In the run-up to the October meeting, the paper said, the officers of the working group “will continue to meet as necessary to consider other possible intersessional work and detailed arrangements for the second session.” WHO also would continue its work on implementing recommendations from the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health, the paper said.Thailand ProposalAn informed source told Intellectual Property Watch that at the meeting, Thailand orally proposed to ask for the Executive Board’s decision to request the WHO secretariat “at all levels to pro-actively support the implementation of WHA59.24.”This would mean that the secretariat should provide, according to “the proposed text on the decision” (presented orally by Thailand):“Support to member states for their contributions to the content and processes in the drafting of the global strategy and plan of action, by mid-March; a summary, synthesis and elaboration of relevant documentations by end June 2007; support to member state contributions in the finalisation of the global strategy and plan of actions as a major input for the second meeting of the inter-governmental working group, through the regional mechanisms and intensive consultations.”“The text was not officially circulated as there was not enough time for a translation into all six official languages,” the source said. Although Thailand, in consultation with several member states, wanted the Executive Board to take a decision on this, the source said, “WHO said the proposals were already incorporated in the work of the secretariat, and in the end, it [did] not appear as the board’s decision as suggested.”However, the WHO director general “somehow promised,” the source said, that the proposals would indeed be part of the work of the WHO secretariat.During the meeting, the United States said it wanted to the see the Thai proposal in writing, and asked for guidance on what role the Executive Board had on the IGWG, and whether it would be able to take concrete actions.The WHO legal counsel said that the Executive Board was supposed to report on progress made in the IGWG to the May World Health Assembly, and it was entitled to discuss this report, if it saw it fit.It would be problematic if the board tried to change the process of the IGWG, the counsel said, but a recommendation to the WHO secretariat, such as that made by Thailand, would be within the authority of the board.WHO said Thailand’s statement could be provided in writing but first had to be translated into the six official languages of the United Nations. This was not done, however, leading to apparent ambiguity about the proposal’s status after the meeting, sources said.Thailand also said WHO had published a report identifying member countries’ proposed parts of the global plan that could be implemented immediately (which have not been agreed to), but the way forward on this was not clear.Thailand said that there had been “no single message” from the IGWG or the WHO secretariat about the need for submissions by February 2007, and only member states attending the December (some 100 out of more than 190 WHO member states) meeting knew about this. Thailand said official submissions would help the IGWG to move forward.Dismay with the ProcessCountries appeared to generally agree that the December meeting had not been very useful and the process had to be improved if the group were to meet its May 2008 deadline for the global strategy and plan of action.The United States said it shared the concern that the outcome of the December meeting was not as ambitious as anticipated and expected. The US emphasised that a strong preparatory process was needed before the next meeting in October.Portugal, on behalf of the European Union (EU), said the December meeting needs a timely and substantial follow up, and it hoped many member countries would submit their views. The official requested a matrix from the WHO secretariat on ongoing activities related to the plan and gaps, as well as proposals to key stakeholders and financial implications.A number of countries indicated their support for the IGWG, including Portugal, which will take over the European Union presidency after Germany (and which also called for a “full preparatory process”), and WHO Director General Margaret Chan.Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen may be reached at email@example.com.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"WHO Members Agree On Need To Improve IP And Public Health Process" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.