WHO Director-General Chan Calls on Member States To Make Antiretrovirals, Other Medications More AffordableWorld Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan on Monday at a meeting of WHO's Intergovernmental Working Group on public health in Geneva called on developed countries to make antiretroviral drugs and other medications more affordable for developing countries, the AP/Tacoma News Tribune reports. WHO's 193 member states by the end of the week hope to develop a strategy on drug development, patenting and pricing, according to the AP/News Tribune.
Chan at the meeting said she is aware that the "price of medicines and other products can be prohibitive, effectively blocking access to care," but she added that innovation is needed. "Resistance develops and drugs fail, creating an urgent need for second- and third-line medicines," Chan said, adding, "We have seen this problem most acutely with HIV/AIDS. We are seeing it again with the spread of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, which is far more costly and difficult to treat" (Klapper, AP/Tacoma News Tribune, 11/5).
Chan said, "The challenge is to work on multiple fronts: to meet the immediate need for equitable access to quality, affordable medicines, while also, at the same time, working to stimulate innovation." She added that the global health community "cannot allow the costs of health care to drive impoverished households even deeper into poverty."
According to AFP/Yahoo! News, the working group was set up last year after a WHO-commissioned report called on pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices of drugs sold in developing countries. Some companies have said they already have reduced 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 respect existing WTO commitments and not extend WHO's mandate. The U.S. "would like you to make sure you are aware of the potentially negative trade and intellectual property implications that could arise from this initiative" at WHO, the document said. James Love, director of KEI, said the U.S. and European Union are playing a "cynical game" in attempting 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 blocking access of high-quality medicine" in developing countries, Cudjoe, executive director of the Imani Center for Policy and Education, writes in a Journal opinion piece. "If the West is any guide, better health systems come with economic development and higher standards of living," both of which are "frequently stifled" in developing countries by "destructive policies and home-grown corruption," Cudjoe writes. "Let's hope the WHO won't succumb to the misconception that compulsory license can cure Africa's health problems," Cudjoe writes, concluding that "economic development remains the continent's best hope for eradicating the diseases of poverty" (Cudjoe, Wall Street Journal, 11/6).
- Jeremiah Norris, Taipei Times: WHO member states "need to knock this treaty on the head ... before the WHO does lasting damage to global public health," Norris, director of the Center for Science in Public Policy at the Hudson Institute, writes in a Times opinion piece. According to Norris, WHO "aims to weaken intellectual property further and to bring research and development under the control of governments and international bodies," adding that "past evidence shows that nationalizing any business stifles innovation and that it would hinder future efforts to create drugs" for developing countries (Norris, Taipei Times, 11/4).