WHO Head Expresses Commitment To Strengthen IP Working Group20/05/2007 by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a 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)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan this week made a firm commitment to strengthen an intergovernmental working group on innovation and access to treatments that for the past year has struggled to find its focus, sources said. With a new proposal from Brazil focusing on what WHO can do in this area, the issue has already received a lot of attention at the World Health Assembly.Chan said she wanted to ”ensure” that the process would ”go smoothly into [the] November  meeting,” referring to the second and last meeting of the WHO Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG).Chan said WHO needs to ensure that member states “commit more resources” to the IGWG process and said WHO needs to “supplement current expertise within the organisation.” She wanted to ensure that the IGWG team is fully complemented on these issues, she said.Chan’s statement came at the end of the first week of the 14-23 May assembly, and after questions and concerns were raised at a 17 May technical briefing on the IGWG.The group was set up by a resolution agreed to at last year’s assembly which asked the group to come up with a strategy and plan of action for improving sustainable research and development (R&D) of medicines for neglected diseases by May 2008 (IPW, Public Health, 27 May 2006).This will involve setting R&D priorities and estimating funding needs. The initial agreement on these sensitive issues was reached in a collaborative spirit, according to sources, but since the WHO Executive Board meeting in January countries have increasingly called for this spirit to be rekindled in order to move forward.Those favouring the current system of patents and intellectual property rights providing the incentive for R&D into medicines fear that the entire intellectual property system will be changed in this process and not only be limited to neglected diseases, sources said. Others, meanwhile, see the IGWG as an opportunity to address a problem of access to patented pharmaceuticals, they said.After the 17 May briefing, Chan said she held a four-hour meeting with officials involved in the IGWG in order to get better informed. She said the complexities of the IGWG has “hit me very hard” during the past few days at the assembly. She also said she had become increasingly aware of the importance of intellectual property rights issues to WHO member states.Chan said it was her understanding that a document that the WHO secretariat is preparing for member states by July would be a negotiating document, which member states confirmed. Switzerland said the paper would take on board the discussion from the first IGWG meeting as well as submissions made by member states in a hearing. IGWG Bureau Chair Peter Oldham of Canada said the paper would cover the draft global strategy as well as plan of action, emphasising that it would not be a “work plan,” but a “plan of action,” which WHO and member states would “operationalise” in their work plan. The bureau is the connection between member states (and WHO’s six regional committees) and the WHO secretariat, he said.Chan said she also expected more regional consultation with key stakeholders to take place between July and the November meeting. She said she wanted to ensure that the November meeting would allow all member states an equal opportunity to discuss. In the first IGWG meeting, about 50 least developed countries were invited, but only 20 turned up, WHO said.One of the issues raised at the technical briefing was that some regions such as Latin America and Africa have not been able to meet and discuss IGWG. “The process is not running well in our part of the world,” said Dr Ahmed Ogwell, head of international health relations at the Ministry of Health in Kenya, and member of the bureau. In what he called a “direct appeal,” Ogwell said the region needs more support, and supports the fastest possible conclusion to the process. At the meeting, Chan said she heard the African region “loud and clear.”Oldham said it was “absolutely critical” to have regional discussions on the IGWG. He said some countries’ perception that the process had been put on hold was not correct as the bureau had been focusing on getting the process right for the final working group meeting in November.The United States emphasised the intergovernmental nature of the process and said one cannot only lay blame on the secretariat for what was perceived as a failure of the first group meeting last December. The official said that for the second public hearing on the IGWG process, 21 member states of WHO’s 193 had submitted their views on the process.A non-governmental organisation representative said at the briefing that WHO must do more on intellectual property and public health, including proactively helping developing countries implement flexibilities in trade law on patents and medicines. This was echoed by a developing country official who said this could be a “low-hanging fruit,” or easily reached goal, of the IGWG. An industry source inquired about the role of experts to the IGWG. At the first meeting, many countries disagreed with the selection of experts for the group.Brazil’s Draft ResolutionOn 17 May, Brazil’s proposal on public health, innovation and intellectual property rights (A60/B/Conf.Paper No.3) was distributed at the assembly. Brazil called on WHO to be proactive and to support member states intending to use flexibilities in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) (IPW, Public Health, 17 May).When the topic of “Public health, innovation and intellectual property: progress made by the [IGWG]” was discussed in a committee on 18 May, Brazil welcomed Chan’s commitment and said the country is now ready to ask WHO to prepare a text that would serve as a basis for negotiation. Brazil said that as there had been no agreement on the principles and methodology for such a text after the December IGWG meeting, the draft resolution was meant to provide “a sense and direction” to the working group on where it should go. The Brazilian official said that IGWG needs new thinking and new mechanisms, such as UNITAID, an international drug-purchasing facility which is raising funds through various taxes.Informal Session Signals ChangesAn informal consultation was held on the Brazil draft on 19 May, but although Brazil would have liked it to be a formal drafting group, WHO said this was not possible as there would not be translations available and one has to wait 48 hours after submitting a draft resolution before discussions may start.A Brazilian official told Intellectual Property Watch the text was “much better” and the meeting had improved the reading of the draft. Now, “[we] understand fully where we want to go,” he said. He said the changes would be submitted as a revised draft to WHO, and be distributed on 21 May when formal discussions on IGWG will resume. Others indicated that they hoped a formal working group would be established then, as has been the case on the issues of avian flu at the assembly (IPW, Public Health, 16 May 2007).Some participants at the informal meeting said that the language had been toned down, adding that the formal discussions on 21 May would have to be based on the original 17 May draft.A Kenyan official told Intellectual Property Watch that the 19 May had been very informal but had helped participants focus on the process and how to gain broad support for the draft. At press time it was not clear what status the revised draft will have.Tove Gerhardsen may be reached at email@example.com. 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