World Health Assembly: As Members Approve Health R&D Decisions, US Says Time To “Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is” 27/05/2013 by Rachel Marusak Hermann, Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (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)Heading into the 66th World Health Assembly, the prospect of a global treaty to address the health needs of developing countries seemed unlikely and years away at best. In a surprising turn in this highly political conversation, the United States challenged member states to prove that it could work. That process will start sooner rather than later as members gavelled the resolution and agreed to convene a meeting on health R&D demonstration projects in the next few months. Adjourning a day early, the 66th World Health Assembly met from 20-27 May. On its final day, the committee addressing the Follow-up of the report of the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG) approved the CEWG resolution [A66/23] and the “decision point” [pdf] proposed by the US. The CEWG resolution contains three areas of action: establishing a global health R&D observatory; setting up demonstration projects; and developing norms and standards to better collect data on health R&D. The decision point focusses on advancing the demonstration projects. Under the decision, a 2-3 day technical consultative meeting will be held by the end of this year. Although open to all member states, health R&D experts will lead the discussion. Director General Margaret Chan will select the technical experts in consultation with the regional directors. The meeting’s objective is to help identify projects that address R&D gaps for diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries, support open-knowledge, promote the de-linkage of R&D cost from product price, and propose “innovative, sustainable and pooled funding.” The projects should be scalable and provide a foundation for the next steps in addressing the gaps where market forces fail. Only the US delegation commented on the decision prior to its adoption on 27 May in committee. Speaking on behalf the delegation, Nils Daulaire, director of the Office of Global Affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Service, seemed to suggest [pdf] that successful demonstration projects could lead to the outcome that could help resolve the deep divisions member states have faced over the past year. “The recommendation in the CEWG report that drew the widest divergence of views was the call for a binding global treaty, with mandatory contributions by all countries that would have amounted to nearly $3 billion. Most of this new money would have come from countries other than the handful that are already investing heavily in these areas,” Daulaire said. “[T]he demonstration projects will not only test the feasibility of the coordination mechanism, but also, and importantly, it will test the willingness of Member States to put new money toward our shared goals,” the US statement said. “To be very direct, if Member States cannot now begin to put substantial new money into the demonstration projects and support for the Secretariat, we will need to scale back our ambitions. We call on all Member States to now put our money where our mouth is,” he said. Change in US Policy? The willingness to discuss a pathway toward a treaty seemed to be a departure from what has been the US policy since the CEWG first presented its report in April 2012. James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), told Intellectual Property Watch, “The US came into this meeting telling people they couldn’t change anything about the resolution, that not a single comma could be changed.” “Then they posed basically a new resolution last Friday. It just shocked everyone. So, one message you have is that apparently the US can decide whether or not you can re-negotiate the terms of reference because what happened was a significant change. That said, we agreed with the significant change and are happy the US did it.” Taking member states by surprise, the US came to the table with the proposal on 24 May. The parameters of this meeting were finalised by an informal drafting group, chaired by Malebona Precious Matsoso of South Africa, the following day (IPW, WHO, 25 May 2013). German Velásquez, a special advisor for health and development at the intergovernmental South Centre, and another avid supporter of an R&D treaty, was generally pleased with the results. “We know the window for the treaty is still open, we only have to wait for two years more,” he told Intellectual Property Watch. Industry also demonstrated openness to developing new models of drug innovation such as “public-private product development partnerships demonstrating that different approaches can be used in certain situations,” noted Mario Ottiglio, director of public affairs and global health policy at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), in an email communication [updated]. “Following discussions on models, we should now identify the priority needs and how we can leverage current efforts to achieve progress on diseases disproportionately affecting the developing world. We believe that the proposed demonstration projects can help in this regard,” noted Ottiglio. According to sources, the WHO secretariat had suggested that due to resource constraints, “it would be great if a Member State offered to host the meeting” and the US expressed openness to supporting the meeting “whether monetary” or by “hosting,” but no formal commitments have been made. A report of this technical meeting will be submitted to the 134th Executive Board in January 2014. It is unclear at this stage if the report will be sent to the World Health Assembly for approval. 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