2008: WHO adopts Global Strategy to address access and innovation

Photograph by Juan Carlos Tomasi
The existing treatment lasts at least two years including several months in hospital. The treatment at the special drug resistant TB unit on the outskirts of Yerevan means having to take up to 20 pills a day, often together with painful injections every morning.

Finding sustainable solutions

The battle for access to medicines will not be won on a drug-by-drug or a country-by-country basis. What we need are long-term solutions that answer the problem in a sustainable way.

The answer lies in looking at both access to medicines and medical innovation as two sides of the same coin. In today’s model, the cost of researching and developing medicines is paid for through high drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies argue patents are necessary to protect their monopolies, and ensure returns on their investment in research and development. But this model excludes those who are unable to pay.

We need mechanisms that deliver adapted and affordable drugs that respond to patients’ needs – mechanisms that allow for any new medicines, diagnostics and vaccines that are developed to be designed with medical priorities in mind and priced affordably, from day one.

In May 2008, WHO member states adopted a Global Strategy and Plan of Action for Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property. The move marked the end of two years of difficult multilateral negotiations under the auspices of an Intergovernmental Working Group, or IGWG. Mechanisms like patent pools, prize funds, or R&D treaties allow for the delinking of the costs of research from the price of the final product and provide a pathway for orienting R&D towards priority health needs. These now need to be put in practice.

Of course, much depends on how the Strategy will be implemented in the years ahead. But the document represented an historic achievement, as WHO and its member states agree to address the problems of access to medicines and medical innovation and come up with new ways of stimulating drug, diagnostic and vaccine development.

Last update July 2011