GENEVA (CH), November 2012.- Member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) met in Geneva in November 2012 to discuss ways to improve financing and coordination of research and development (R&D) through a coherent global framework to address the specific health needs of low and middleincome countries (LMICs). This meeting was part of the international consultation process on the Report of the WHO Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG). At stake was a CEWG recommendation to develop a Global Health R&D Treaty.
Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) welcomes WHO’s recognition of the urgent need to address the health R&D needs of developing countries. However, we are deeply concerned that during their meeting WHO needlessly delayed meaningful action to address critical global health needs and postponed further discussion for another 3 years. The CEWG clearly showed that there are insufficient resources committed to addressing R&D needs for neglected diseases that disproportionately affect marginalized people living in LMICs. These countries lack access to suitable medicines, vaccines and diagnostics, resulting in significant preventable morbidity and mortality each year.
While Member States suggested some action points in the meeting, there are at least three major failings in the negotiation process:
- Discussions on Treaty postponed until 2016: This postponement once again delays action that is urgently needed. While the CEWG report outlined the need for an R&D Treaty, Member States failed to reflect the expert recommendations.
- Sustainable funding mechanism for R&D absent: Proposed interventions such as the Global Health R&D Observatory and implementation of a few health R&D demonstration projects do not include funding mechanisms. In view of the current financial crisis in WHO, it is essential to discuss how the WHO will be able to support this initiative.
- Open Innovation Mechanisms are not being promoted: Member States need to take a careful look at how their research systems are performing. Yet, the meeting report does not mention the new innovation models recommended in the CEWG report that have been shown in other sectors to promote more open R&D. Systems are needed that promote Open Knowledge Innovation, so that de-linkage of R&D costs and health product prices can become a reality. These include open-source and collaborative product development models and open access licensing.
Member States recognize that medical technologies are not adequately accessible, available or affordable for the majority of the world’s people. Yet the course of action proposed by WHO cannot pretend to address the crisis we are facing in global health R&D. Limited, non-binding and uncoordinated actions on national or regional levels simply are not enough to address the severe lack of innovative, affordable medicines for neglected populations.
We strongly recommend that Member States and the WHO Secretariat work actively towards implementing, as soon as possible, the operative provisions they agreed upon in their draft resolution in Geneva. Member States need to resolve to implement effective R&D mechanisms, cooperate effectively and finance sustainable solutions. On this issue, WHO needs to show leadership, and national governments must honor their previous agreements. People suffering and dying from neglected diseases cannot wait.