Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property: proposals that delink the cost of research from the price of the product need to be pursued
At the forthcoming World Health Assembly, Member States will be asked to review the report of the WHO Secretariat on the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (GSPA), and the Director-General will report back on Member States’ comments on the report of the Expert Working Group on research and development coordination and financing (EWG).
The GSPA provides a path to tackle the fundamental problems associated with the current system for drug, diagnostic and vaccine development which creates both innovation and access barriers. Driven by commercial rewards, it is a system which leaves many pressing health needs unanswered – needs noted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in its medical programmes include a point-of-care tuberculosis diagnostic test, and better diagnostics, test of cure and medicines for neglected diseases such as Chagas. The system also creates monopolies and thus high prices for health products, accentuating barriers that prevent the poor from accessing life-saving medicines.
Although the report by the Secretariat lists a number of dedicated activities towards the implementation of the GSPA, the majority of these seem to represent existing activities of various actors. It appears that there is little stimulus for new action, despite the urgency of the needs. The implementation of the GSPA requires greater dedicated efforts and higher prioritisation by the WHO leadership to achieve progress.
Individual initiatives that can be established quickly such as a prize fund for a TB point-of-care test are important but work must also begin on longer-term systematic changes that will provide sustainable financing for health needs-driven R&D in a way that ensures equitable access.