Health Ministers To Discuss Issues Surrounding Drug Patents, Access at World Health Assembly
Health ministers from countries worldwide next week at the World Health Assembly will discuss issues surrounding patents and access to drugs for diseases such as HIV/AIDS in developing countries, Reuters UK reports. The World Health Organization has "struggled to find a way" to encourage the development of effective and low-cost drugs for diseases that affect developing countries, according to Reuters UK. A WHO draft plan to address the issue was rejected two years ago by the pharmaceutical industry and low-income nations, and an intergovernmental group earlier this month could not agree on alternatives to the current patent system.
WHO spokesperson Bill Kean said that health ministers attending the May 19-24 WHA will work to resolve the issues that have hindered progress regarding intellectual property. Some development advocates also see the WHA as an opportunity to address drug access, including the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement. "It's now up to the World Health Assembly in May to translate bold ideas into concrete action," Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement, adding, "What we need to see is a wider, more ambitious framework" for research and development, and "political leadership, in particular from WHO."
Harvey Bale, director of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said that strong health infrastructures, efficient markets and proper regulations also are needed to ensure treatment access. "It is important to have a stable, enabling policy environment in each of these areas to ensure a sustained flow of new medicines for the benefit of patients worldwide," he said (MacInnis, Reuters UK, 5/14).