Today, an independent Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health presents its report to the World Health Organization. The report recommends key actions needed to ensure that poor people in developing countries have access to existing and new products to diagnose, treat and prevent the diseases which affect them most.
Over half of the people in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia lack regular access to existing essential medicines because they cannot afford them, or because the health system in their country is too weak. Apart from access to existing medicines, some health products specifically for diseases which disproportionately affect developing countries are simply not developed at all due to the lack of a sustainable market. The relationship between intellectual property rights, innovation and public health has been at the heart of debate on these issues.
The report of the Commission: "Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights" is the result of two years' analysis of how governments, industry, scientists, international law and financing mechanisms can work best to overcome the challenges.
"There is now global momentum to address these issues, and we have a unique opportunity to build on this. There is more awareness, more money potentially available, more utilization of scientific capacity in developing countries and new institutions such as public–private partnerships. The Commission report is clear that we must build on all of these to ensure that poor people in developing countries have sustainable access to the medicines, vaccines and diagnostics they need now, and critically, in the future. The report maps out the ways this can be done," said Mme Ruth Dreifuss, the Chair of the Commission.
The report was commissioned by the World Health Assembly, WHO's governing body of 192 Member States. WHO's Director-General, Dr LEE Jong-wook, established the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health in February 2004. The Commission included ten members, and represented the perspectives of government, industry, public–private partnerships, science, medicine, law and economics.*
The Commission formally handed its report to the Director-General today. It contains more than 50 recommendations which serve as a road map for tackling the issues in different country settings.
"We are grateful to the Commissioners for undertaking this difficult task. With this report, the Commission has built a solid foundation from which countries can move forward. I encourage all countries to give serious consideration to their role in addressing these critical issues," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, today as Mme Dreifuss presented the report.
An intergovernmental working group of WHO's Executive Board will consider the Report at a meeting on 28 April. The World Health Assembly will then examine and debate the Report during its annual meeting from 22 - 27 May 2006. The Assembly will ultimately decide how the Report findings will be applied.
The report is available in six languages at www.who.int/intellectualproperty. A question and answer document is available at the same address.
*The Commission was led by Ruth Dreifuss, former President of the Swiss Confederation. The vice-chairperson was Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, Director-General of India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Other members were Professor Carlos Correa (Argentina), Professor Mahmoud Fathalla (Egypt), Dr Maria Freire (USA), Professor Trevor Jones (UK), Mr Tshediso Matona (South Africa), Professor Fabio Pammolli (Italy), Professor Pakdee Pothisiri (Thailand) and Professor Hiroko Yamane (Japan).