The World Health Assembly, the top decision-making body for the UN World Health Organization, begins its annual meeting on Monday. Delegations from more than 190 countries will meet in Geneva from May 22nd to the 27th.
Kenya and Brazil are scheduled to introduce a resolution to overhaul the way medical research and development is done. There’s much opposition to the proposed changes, but one group supporting the resolution is the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.
Ellen ‘t Hoen is with Doctors Without Borders’ “Access to Essential Medicines Campaign.” From Geneva, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the resolution from Kenya and Brazil:
“The resolution talks about the need to take global action to assure research and development in the health field that actually meets real needs of real people. The resolution coincides with a report that the WHO has just published. It’s a report by a commission that looked at intellectual property issues, innovation and public health. And basically the conclusion of that report is that the current system for encouraging innovation, encouraging research and development is seriously broken.”
She says very little of the hundreds of billions of dollars in R&D go towards drugs that may be needed by people in developing countries, such as AIDS drugs for children.
What would the resolution do? She says, “It would encourage different kinds of approaches for stimulating research and development. The current system…is based on patents and high prices. The thinking behind the current system is by allowing drug companies to charge high prices for their products they make enough money to invest in research and development. But that system leads to a situation where the investments in R&D are done in an area that will lead to profitable products.”
Pharmaceutical companies say they invest hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a new drug. And the profits that the drug may make help fund research and development for drugs that may be needed by smaller populations or for lesser-known illnesses.
Pfizer, for example, bills itself as the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. It says it spent nearly seven and a half billion dollars last year on research and development to fund hundreds of projects.