WHO expert group recommends binding agreement on health technology needs of developing countries
By Ramesh Shankar
A World Health Organisation (WHO) experts’ group has recommended a new binding agreement for financing and coordination mechanisms to meet the health technology needs of developing countries.The Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG) stated in its report that the focus of the proposed agreement is the development of health technologies for type II and type III diseases as well as the specific needs of developing countries related to type I diseases.
The CEWG was appointed by the 63rd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2010 in response to concerns that insufficient resources were being devoted globally to research and development (R&D) to address diseases that principally affected developing countries.
This followed agreement in 2008 on the global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property (GSPA-PHI) which aimed at securing an enhanced and sustainable basis for needs-driven, essential health research and development relevant to diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.
This was a follow up to the report of the Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Coordination and Financing (EWG) that was appointed by the WHO Director-General based on a decision of the WHA in 2008.
The CEWG recommends that negotiations on the binding agreement should take place under Article 19 of the WHO Constitution, whereby the Health Assembly shall have the authority to adopt conventions or agreements with respect to any matter within the competence of the organization. A two-thirds vote of the Health Assembly shall be required for the adoption of such conventions or agreements, which shall come into force for each Member when accepted by it in accordance with its constitutional process.
Regarding the approaches to R&D, the CEWG recommends “open knowledge innovation and define this research and innovation that generate knowledge which is free to use without legal or contractual restrictions”. In this regard, it recommends specifically open approaches to R&D, which includes pre-competitive research and development platforms, open source and open access schemes and milestone prizes.
Regarding the financing of health R&D, the CEWG examined four recommendations of the earlier EWG viz. new indirect tax, voluntary contributions from business and consumers, taxation of repatriated pharmaceutical industry profits and new donor funds. The CEWG concluded that, “some form of taxation is the most fruitful avenue to explore in the search of new and sustainable sources of funding”.
Some experts view that the novelty of the CEWG report is that unlike the earlier EWG report, the CEWG report clearly lays down a roadmap for a legally binding instrument to address the R&D needs of developing countries in type II and type III diseases and the specific research and development needs of developing countries in relation to type I diseases.
According to observers, the upcoming WHA is expected to lay down the mechanism and a process to take forward the recommendations of the CEWG