Health equity in economic and trade policies

WHO Executive Board unable to move IP Group process
Hong E: Third World Network, 2 February 2007

Several developing-country members of the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation have expressed concern and frustration at the lack of progress and direction of a WHO group tasked with charting the organisation's future action on intellectual property, innovation and health. These concerns were voiced at the WHO's Executive Board meeting being held on 22-30 January. At the end of the discussion on the item, the frustration was even more palpable because the Board itself could not seem to make any progress on the issue.

WHO Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property
Mubangizi, P

This presentation was given at the second meeting of the African Civil Society Coalition on the Intergovernmental Working Group in Arusha, Tanzania, 3-4 April 2008. It provides basic information on the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH), regarding its mandate and the implementation of its recommendations. One of these recommendations was to establish an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) to draw up a global strategy and plan of action in order to provide a medium-term framework based on the recommendations of the Commission. The aims of the strategy and plan of action are to secure an enhanced and financially sustainable basis for needs-driven, essential health research and development relevant to diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.

WHO members express dismay at delay on counterfeit medicines group
Saez C: Intellectual Property Watch, 19 January 2011

At the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board meeting, held from 17-25 January 2011, members raised strong concerns that a working group they mandated last May to address problems with WHO policy on counterfeit and substandard medicines has yet to be formed – with only four months remaining before it must report back to members. The Indian delegation called for a halt to WHO activities on anti-counterfeiting until the outcome of the working group is accepted by member states. Members agreed falsified medicines were a threat for global public health but some delegates argued the solution cannot be dominated by intellectual property rights enforcement concerns. The Indian delegate said that the working group was supposed to investigate the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT). IMPACT is a project with international police agency Interpol and other agencies, housed within WHO, and is meant to ‘halt the production, trading and selling of fake medicines around the globe’. It has been criticised in the past by some countries who claim IMPACT has not helped clarify the confusion between substandard, falsified or unsafe drugs and legal, reliable generic medicines.

WHO needs to get serious about high cost of new AIDS drugs
Raja K: Third World Network Info Service on Health Issues, 30 November 2006

The World Health Organisation (WHO) needs to get serious about high cost of new AIDS drugs. AIDS treatment will not be sustainable unless international institutions get serious about the high cost of newer medicines. This warning comes from Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) the medical humanitarian organisation. MSF says that the WHO has failed to outline a strategy to help countries access these drugs which remain largely inaccessible in developing countries. Thailand uses compulsory licence for cheaper AIDS drug. Thailand, however, has for the first time announced it will issue a compulsory licence for the domestic manufacture of a key AIDS drug. The following articles report on both these issues.

WHO plea to drugs companies
Boseley S: The Guardian, 4 April 2006

Drug companies should not take out patents on their new medicines or enforce patents in poor countries if that is likely to prevent patients from getting them, an influential commission set up by the World Health Organisation said yesterday.

WHO praises G8 on health
Statement by Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization

"Today the G8 has made an unprecedented commitment to health which has the potential to forever change the lives of millions of people in Africa. Disease kills 3.5 million African children under five every year. HIV/AIDS affects more than 25 million African people. Tuberculosis kills 1500 each day. A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth. I welcome the G8's pledge to turn these trends around. The aim of providing near-universal access to AIDS treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS by 2010, combined with prevention and care, has the potential to turn the tide on this epidemic. We already know that treatment can turn a fatal disease into a chronic condition and we have demonstrated that this works in resource-poor countries."

WHO recommends tax on sugary drinks
Cullinan K: Health E-News, October 2016

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in October 2016 recommended that governments should tax sugary drinks as part of the global campaign against obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. South Africa’s Treasury plans to introduce a tax on sugary drinks in April 2017, while Ireland announced it would also introduce a sugary drinks tax in 2018. “Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.” Taxes that result in a 20% increase or more in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the WHO report, “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs)”. Obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2014. By 2014, almost 40% of adults worldwide were overweight, with 15% of women and 11% of men obese. Meanwhile, diabetes has almost quadrupled since 1980, rising from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. In 2012, 38 million people lost their lives due to NCDs, 16 million or 42% of whom died prematurely – before 70 years – from largely avoidable conditions. More than 80% of people who died prematurely from a NCD were in developing countries. Governments have committed to reduce deaths from NCDs, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda includes a target to reduce premature deaths from diabetes, cancers, heart, and lung diseases by one-third by 2030.

WHO response to WTO member state challenges on tobacco, food and beverage policies
Barlow P; Labonte Rl McKee M; Stuckler D: Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 97(1) 846-848, 2019

In 2013, the World Health Assembly endorsed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) 2013–2020 to achieve a 25% reduction in mortality from NCDs by 2025. WHO’s Global Action Plan is ambitious. In the late 1990s, WHO used its treaty- making powers to address the issue of tobacco use, leading to the Frame-work Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It enabled WHO to have a greater presence at World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings, supporting countries in their efforts to protect their populations against the harms from tobacco. While WHO was present when tobacco trade may conflict with public health concerns, this was not the case in WTO discussions concerning nutrition policy. Even though the Global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013–2020, fully recognizes the need for action on trade in certain foods and beverages, it was not possible to find any evidence of WHO participation in nutrition-related trade challenges, such as those related to unhealthy food high in salt, fat and sugar, alcohol, soft-drinks and infant milk formulae. The authors suggest that WHO can learn from its past successes in championing tobacco control at the WTO. The lack of a treaty similar to the FCTC for nutrition-related diseases may discourage WHO participation because such absence limits the perceived legitimacy of WHO input. Further investigations are necessary to understand why WHO has yet to comment on food and beverage regulations at WTO’s committee.

WHO shaken up by delegates' criticisms on IPR issues
Khor M: Third World Network, 19 May 2007

WHO’s handling of issues at the 2007 World Health Assembly, has received sharp criticism from both member states and NGOs for its bias and neglect of traditional priority issues. This article highlights the complaints of developing country members.

Who should pay for debt cancellation?

Proposals by the US government to re-divert aid funding to pay for the debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries have been criticized by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). It is understood that the US Treasury Department is going to call for 100% debt cancellation for highly indebted poor countries. However the American proposal calls for the debt relief to be offset against new aid funding for the poverty-stricken countries. Henry Northover, Public Policy Analyst, CAFOD, said: "It's not so much a 100% debt cancellation as a 100% debt makeover. Debt cancellation for the worlds poorest must be paid for by the world's richest."