Agreeing to disagree

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At the recently concluded World Health Assembly in Geneva, one of the hotly debated topics was the adoption of a global Convention on health R&D.

As expected, delegations from developed nations (the US and EU, as per media reports) have taken strong objection to the recommendations while health activist NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have ranged themselves on the side of the ‘global poor’.

NGOs like MSF contend that such a Convention could address gaps in today’s drug R&D model, which is skewed towards diseases of the developed world and largely ignores health needs of the developing world.

For instance, one of the recommendations of the report of the WHO’s Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG) on R&D: Financing and Coordination is that countries should spend 0.01 per cent of GDP on government-funded R&D for developing country needs, with at least 20 per cent of this amount going towards a pooled mechanism. The report envisages that WHO would play a large role in coordinating research and ensuring that the common pool of resources is disbursed effectively.

Representatives of developed nations, like the US, are questioning the need for such a Convention, contending that they already have R&D stimulation measures like advance market commitments, orphan drug legislation, and priority review vouchers geared to meet the health needs of developing nations. But the WHO’s CEWG report explains exactly why these measures have not been successful.

With most developed economies still in recession, one could argue that their Governments have no time or funds to spare for the health needs of developing nations. The CEWG report and its recommendations  will no doubt continue to be debated for some time, as the WHA holds Member States’ consultations at national, regional and global levels to analyse the report and the feasibility of the recommendations. It has already taken a decade for the expert group to come up with these recommendations. Will it take another to actually have such a Convention in place?

Viveka Roychowdhury

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