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[e-drug] Consumer International statement to WHA Executive Board

E-DRUG: Consumer International statement to WHA Executive Board
[copied from Pharm-Policy with thanks;
The WHO Executive Board is meeting in Geneva, and is discussing resolutions
on HIV/AIDS that could impact on affordable access to essential drugs. WB] 


26 January 2000

First statement:

Statement on behalf of Consumers International (formerly International
Organisation of Consumers' Unions)

by Bas van der Heide

for WHO Executive Board, 105th session

on agenda item: 2 / Public private partnerships for health

Mr Chairman, distinguished members of the EB,

I am speaking on behalf of Consumers International (CI). I would like to
thank you for the opportunity to raise issues of importance to consumers
worldwide. On pharmaceutical questions, CI works closely together with
Health Action International (HAI), a global network of health,
development and consumer groups active in more than 70 countries.

On infant feeding CI works with the International Baby Food Action
Network (IBFAN).

I would like to say a few words on WHO’s partnership with
commercial enrterprises.

In a world where healt care systems and services are increasingly being
privitised and commercialised, there is an urgent need for WHO to protect
its status as a truly independent advocacte for human rights and health
for all. As the highest policy setting body on health in the world, WHO
has a duty to ensure that its policies, research priorities and direction
are not inadvertently subverted in its drive to attract funds and
resources.The agenda of profit-making companies is not the same as that
of a public body such as the WHO and is at times conflicting. The most
important question therefore is whether increased interaction with the
commercial sector is a major way forward towards Health For All. WHO must
be able to demonstrate that the poor directly benefit from more
public-private partnerships. Acceptance of industry partnerships and
industry sponsorship without strong, enforceable, accountable and
transparent guidelines for these relationships will undermine and destroy
the organization's role, responsibility and reputation.

In May 1999 HAI wrote to Dr Brundtland expressing serious objections to
the secondment of a representative of the pharmaceutical industry to
WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. In October we received a draft of the WHO
Guidelines on Interaction with Commercial Enterprises and were invited to
comment on them. In our response, we said HAI was pleased to see that WHO
was now addressing this important issue which affects the very foundation
of its work. The main flaw of the draft guidelines is that they do not
give sufficient guidance for a serious evaluation of the activities of
potential and current commercial partners and therefore do not
substantially reduce the risk of conflict of interest.

For example, just as tobacco manufacturers should not be allowed to fund
WHO activities, any private enterprise that has a vested interest in
infant feeding or the pharmaceutical market must be excluded from such an
influential relationship as well.

Mr Chairman, members of the Executive Board, we thank you for your


Second statement:

Agenda item 3.3 HIV/AIDS

Mr Chairman, distinguished members of the EB,

I am speaking on behalf of Consumers International (CI), Health Action
International (HAI) and the International Baby Food Action Network

Developing countries are facing a crisis involving access to essential
medicines. Some essential drugs are unavailable because they are under
patent and priced beyond the reach of developing countries. The market
fails to provide the solution. Research and development (R&D) on
medicines for tropical diseases have come to a near standstill. Patents
are an incentive for R&D, but a balance between protecting intellectual
property rights and gaining access to essential medicines must be found.

The Director-General's report HIV/AIDS: confronting the epidemic
(EB105/12) refers to member states' need for advice from WHO on options
allowed within the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPS) to increase their access to HIV/AIDS-related
drugs. HAI welcomes the fact that countries can now be advised by WHO
about the relationship between international agreements and such subjects
as drug prices, local production, and licensing agreements. Operative
paragraph 2(7) is a crucial part of the draft resolution consistent with
the relevant sections of the Revised Drug Strategy resolution WHA52.19.

It is unfortunate that the Report by the Director-General on the Revised
Drug Strategy (EB105/36, p.4-5) leaves crucial questions unanswered on
the next steps involving the important trade and health issue. At the
moment there are ongoing country disputes in countries like Thailand, the
Dominican Republic and the Philippines involving compulsory licensing of
essential medicines, generic prescribing and many other issues. WHO has
an important role to play in these discussions and could assist the
involved countries and others by developing papers outlining policy
options and providing technical advice.

We are concerned however that WHO has not yet taken up a very pro-active
and visible role in public debates on these issues. During the World
Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle, for
example, TRIPS and access to essential drugs was an important issue for
many delegations, but WHO was reactive and, at times, unresponsive.

We are pleased that Dr Brundtland has offered to WTO to organize a joint
working group on access to medicines and to include major stakeholders in
its work. We foresee such a working group considering the impact of trade
policies on people in developing and least developed countries, providing
a public health framework for the interpretation of key features of WTO
agreements. It would also evaluate and propose changes in the WTO rules
that would increase access to essential medicines. WHO could play an
active role in being the international public health organization
outlining the agenda for this working group and providing technical

Today there is very little research and development (R&D) on diseases
that primarily affect the people living in poor countries. WHO member
states should direct WHO to set a clear research agenda and increase
public spending to realise these goals. Moreover, these R&D efforts
should be designed with access in mind, and address issues such as
reasonable pricing and intellectual property rights before huge sums of
money are put into new public/private sector partnerships.

Finally, a few words about to infant feeding. We are pleased that WHO is
now taking the lead in conducting further research on the issue of
exclusive breastfeeding and its role in reducing Mother to Child
Transmission of HIV. We urge WHO to do everything it can to encourage
member states to implement the International Code and the relevant
Resolutions in order to protect all infants and carers --whatever their
infant feeding decisions-- from commercial promotion.

Mr Chairman, members of the EB, we thank
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