WHO Member States To Make Antiretrovirals, Other Medications More Affordable

Armen Hareyan's picture

World Health OrganizationDirector-General Margaret Chan on Monday at a meeting of WHO'sIntergovernmental Working Group on public health in Geneva called ondeveloped countries to make antiretroviral drugs and other medicationsmore affordable for developing countries, the AP/Tacoma News Tribunereports. WHO's 193 member states by the end of the week hope to developa strategy on drug development, patenting and pricing, according to theAP/News Tribune.

Chan at the meeting said she isaware that the "price of medicines and other products can beprohibitive, effectively blocking access to care," but she added thatinnovation is needed. "Resistance develops and drugs fail, creating anurgent need for second- and third-line medicines," Chan said, adding,"We have seen this problem most acutely with HIV/AIDS. We are seeing itagain with the spread of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, whichis far more costly and difficult to treat" (Klapper, AP/Tacoma News Tribune, 11/5).

Chansaid, "The challenge is to work on multiple fronts: to meet theimmediate need for equitable access to quality, affordable medicines,while also, at the same time, working to stimulate innovation." Sheadded that the global health community "cannot allow the costs ofhealth care to drive impoverished households even deeper into poverty."


Working Group

According to AFP/Yahoo! News,the working group was set up last year after a WHO-commissioned reportcalled on pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices of drugs sold indeveloping countries. Some companies have said they already havereduced prices, and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations has said that drug price and patent issues fall under World Trade Organization jurisdiction and not WHO.

According to U.S. documents obtained by the lobby group Knowledge Ecology International,the U.S. urged countries attending the weeklong meeting to respectexisting WTO commitments and not extend WHO's mandate. The U.S. "wouldlike you to make sure you are aware of the potentially negative tradeand intellectual property implications that could arise from thisinitiative" at WHO, the document said. James Love, director of KEI,said the U.S. and European Union are playing a "cynical game" inattempting to break the consensus toward making drugs more affordable (AFP/Yahoo! News, 11/5).

Related Opinion Pieces

Two newspapers on Tuesday published opinion pieces in response to the WHO meeting. Summaries appear below.

  • Franklin Cudjoe, Wall Street Journal:Inadequate infrastructure, not price, is the "chief obstacle blockingaccess of high-quality medicine" in developing countries, Cudjoe,executive director of the Imani Center for Policy and Education, writes in a Journal opinionpiece. "If the West is any guide, better health systems come witheconomic development and higher standards of living," both of which are"frequently stifled" in developing countries by "destructive policiesand home-grown corruption," Cudjoe writes. "Let's hope the WHO won'tsuccumb to the misconception that compulsory license can cure Africa'shealth problems," Cudjoe writes, concluding that "economic developmentremains the continent's best hope for eradicating the diseases ofpoverty" (Cudjoe, Wall Street Journal, 11/6).
  • Jeremiah Norris, Taipei Times:WHO member states "need to knock this treaty on the head ... before theWHO does lasting damage to global public health," Norris, director ofthe Center for Science in Public Policy at the Hudson Institute, writes in a Times opinionpiece. According to Norris, WHO "aims to weaken intellectual propertyfurther and to bring research and development under the control ofgovernments and international bodies," adding that "past evidence showsthat nationalizing any business stifles innovation and that it wouldhinder future efforts to create drugs" for developing countries(Norris, Taipei Times, 11/4).

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