WHO IP And Health Group Turns To IP; Meeting To Continue In 2008Published on 9 November 2007 @ 4:59 pm
Intellectual Property Watch
By William New
Negotiators at this week’s World Health Organization meeting on intellectual property, innovation and public health appeared to reach preliminary agreement Friday on principles establishing that IP rights should not negatively impact public health and should fit with the needs of developing countries. On Friday, talks moved to the controversial section of the draft text on intellectual property rights shortly before organisers announced that the meeting will be continued next year.
The WHO Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG) is meeting from 5 to 10 November. It is mandated, before the next World Health Assembly in May 2008, to come up with a framework strategy and action plan to address the shortage of research and development into diseases disproportionately affecting the poor.
In the first days of this week, attention was on the strategy, with sections split between two working groups. A third subgroup was formed to begin discussing the action plan.
On Friday, the WHO said that the IGWG meeting will continue into Saturday and then continue next year. This week’s meeting will close in the early afternoon with a plenary session that will decide on the chair’s proposal to suspend the IGWG and continue it possibly from 28 April to 3 May, 2008. The next meeting would be considered a resumption of IGWG II, rather than an IGWG III, a WHO spokesperson said. There also is a plan to continue the action plan subgroup possibly in late January or early February, around the time of the WHO Executive Board meeting.
Developed countries, invested in the existing R&D system, had sought to close this process quickly this week. At least one developed country delegate expressed disappointment but resignation that the issues were too many and too difficult for such a short timeframe. Brazil had favoured more time for discussion beyond this week, sources said.
On the issue of intellectual property, Norway floated a draft alternative to the negotiating text which was filled with brackets, signifying absence of agreement. The Norwegian paper, which removed some of the more controversial text, appeared to be favourably received by other member states.
Its proposal was used as a basis for the first item in the IP section. A debate over whether the aim of the group should be to complement the existing R&D system or develop alternative was overcome by removing both. Now the language would simply state that incentive schemes for R&D would be explored and implemented as appropriate.
Also Friday, the group concluded work on the introductory section of the draft strategy, with near agreement on the context, aim, and principles. A section on focus was agreed to be dropped. A draft text from 9 November shows the inclusion of many principles emerging from a meeting of Latin American countries held in Rio de Janeiro in September that were aimed at preserving the social aspects of IP and public health.
The 9 November text also reflects a lengthy discussion held on whether competition, and the reduction or elimination of import tariffs should be considered among ways to lower prices and increase access to health products and medical devices. Developed-nation industry has been pushing for the reduction
Howard Zucker, WHO assistant director general for health technology and pharmaceuticals, said in a Friday press conference that nothing is finally agreed until everything is, and that even consensus items agreed along the way could be reopened at the May Health Assembly.
William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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