Statement at WHO meeting on public health, innovation and intellectual property

This statement was written by delegation members from Essential Action, Third World Network, and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines.

1 May 2008

Statement of CMC – Churches’ Action for Health at WHO IGWG II bis

My name is Sarah Rimmington, and I am speaking on behalf of the CMC Churches’ Action for Health delegation. We are pleased to address the WHO Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on public health, innovation and intellectual property.

Medical research and development breakthroughs have made the world a better and healthier place, thus serving the mission of justice, peace and integrity of creation. Vaccines, antibiotics and drugs for conditions such as HIV/AIDS have kept countless millions alive and reduced untold suffering.

The world — and especially developing countries — needs more innovation. To have public health benefit, however, the fruits of the innovative process must be available to the people who need them.

The current patent monopoly-based system of R&D has proven inefficient at advancing a needs-driven public health agenda. This is particularly true regarding the needs of the vast majority of the world’s population who live in developing countries.

The patent monopoly-based system of R&D has also resulted in excessively high prices for important health products, creating serious access problems particularly for developing countries.

The global strategy and plan of action that comes out of the IGWG process thus must systemically address both innovation and access to medicines – “I plus A”.

To address the challenges of I plus A, we strongly believe the strategy and plan of action must promote incentive proposals that de-link the cost of R & D from the price of the products developed. This approach has also been strongly endorsed by a group of Nobel laureates and academics earlier this week.

Health products must be widely accessible if R&D is to be relevant for developing countries.

It is also of critical importance for member states to strengthen the role of the WHO with respect to intellectual property issues as they relate to public health.

WHO is the leading multilateral institution on public health. It has for many years been providing guidance, technical and policy support to developing countries, and should continue to do so proactively.

In this respect, we hope to see the global strategy and plan of action take a step forward to address developing country needs for WHO guidance, technology and policy support to achieve innovation plus access.

We strongly encourage this body to agree that the WHO must provide proactive guidance, particularly in the use of the TRIPS flexibilities to promote access, including compulsory licensing and exceptions to patent rights; the implementation of policies on strict patentability criteria to achieve public health objectives; implementing policies to prevent and remedy anti-competitive practices pertaining to patents for health products; and promoting licensing and technology transfer strategies that make medicines available at the lowest possible cost in the developing world.

Developed countries – in particular the EU and the US – make frequent use of these measures, but developing countries need assistance from a public health perspective. We see the WHO as being the appropriate lead institution on these matters.

We further support the inclusion in the strategy and plan of action the CIPIH report recommendation that encourages member states to avoid the incorporation of “TRIPS-plus” provisions in trade agreements and national legislation, because of their well-known negative impact on access to medicines.