Debate Surrounds Final WHO Global Strategy, Action Plan On IP And HealthPublished on 24 May 2008 @ 3:10 pm
By William New, Intellectual Property Watch
[Note: The assembly reached agreement on the global strategy, but the final text is not available, according to the WHO.
By William New
Draft texts of a global strategy, plan of action and resolution on ways to stimulate research into neglected diseases disproportionately affecting poor populations were adopted Saturday at committee level by World Health Organization members Saturday, but await an uncertain future in the full World Health Assembly to convene later in the day.
The issue is perhaps the most contentious in the 19-24 annual World Health Assembly. Members passed on to the assembly the plan of action still with a half-dozen unresolved items. The strategy, action plan, and assembly resolution now become recommendations to the full assembly, where further debate may occur before formal adoption. Intellectual Property Watch will publish a report on the outcome by Monday.
In committee, members dropped a contested provision proposed by least-developed nations putting the right to health before commercial interests that was opposed by most-developed countries. They also dropped mention of the World Intellectual Property Organization Development Agenda in the context of competition policy.
The provisions’ authors reluctantly accepted to allow the global strategy to proceed without their proposals after negotiations to 3:30 in the morning and resumed at 9 could not resolve differences, according to participants. Venezuela firmly stated its reservation on the right to health provision, and many countries were represented in the statement, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Argentina and Honduras, it said. The statement referred to suffering and poverty of people in their continent, said the global strategy stating the importance of the right to health would have been consistent with WHO rules and said the WHO is the “natural forum” for such a statement.
Suriname on behalf of the Caribbean countries said that it would like to propose amendments to the strategy.
Switzerland proposed the assembly resolution adopt the global strategy and the provisions of the action plan that are agreed, and generally state the WHO work where its role has been agreed.
“We have filled the glass to 95 percent, and want to start drinking it because we have people who are sick,” the Swiss delegate told the committee.
The Swiss proposal was opposed by Brazil, which urged to move the debate to the full assembly, where the discussion could be continued. This was agreed to, though the Swiss proposal gathered support from Africa, the European Union and Norway before the committee broke.
Bolivia on behalf of Barbados as well made a statement in part to highlight the importance in the text that there might be alternative methods of financing to address the problem of neglected diseases, reflecting a proposal from the two nations made earlier in the negotiating process.
The rush to the last minute to resolve differences appeared to cause some confusion among the general membership about what had been agreed in the deep of night by core interested parties. One small country proposed support for the right to health provision in a form that had been modified days ago. Israel said the process was “not done properly” and proposed to put off a decision on the text it referred to as a “Swiss cheese full of holes” with “bread that is half-baked.” But the committee meeting chair pushed ahead with approval.
The effort represents the end of the two-year mandate of the WHO Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG). WHO members are addressing a draft strategy, plan of action and the assembly resolution language. Developed countries have pressed hard to finish this process this week, rather than let the mandate carry forward another year. They also have worked to keep the WHO mandate on IP issues in check, according to government sources.
There remained the possibility at press time that the whole process could collapse at the assembly level, officials said.
William New may be reached at email@example.com.