WHO to gain advisory role on pharmaceutical patents

The World Health Organisation's annual assembly will today formally endorse a resolution giving the body a central role in advising its 192 member governments on how to ensure that pharmaceutical patent protection policies do not harm public health. The resolution, initiated by Brazil, was adopted by consensus yesterday in a WHO committee. The US had earlier dropped a draft resolution calling for a strengthening of patent protection to encourage drug innovation when it became clear it faced certain defeat. The adopted resolution calls on WHO members to adapt their national intellectual property laws to make full use of the provisions in World Trade Organisation patent rules that allow countries to give priority to public health and nutrition. The WHO and health campaigners say many developing countries have adopted patent laws that are more restrictive than necessary to comply with the WTO's accord on trade-related aspects of intellectual property (Trips). According to a WHO report produced for the assembly, full implementation of Trips by developing countries could raise drug prices by a factor of two or more. WHO members are also urged to reach a solution in the WTO on imports of generic medicines by poor nations before the WTO's ministerial meeting in CancÃ?ºn, Mexico, in September, which is due to take some crucial decisions on the future course of the Doha round of global trade talks. Agreement on the medicines issue is seen as essential to prevent the meeting collapsing in north-south acrimony. The resolution also instructs WHO to set up an expert group to look at the whole issue of intellectual property rights, innovation and public health, including how to provide funds and incentives for the development of drugs for diseases that disproportionately affect poor nations. While developed countries represent nearly 90 per cent of global drug sales, 90 per cent of the 14m deaths due to infectious diseases are in developing nations, the resolution notes. The group would aim to finalise its report and recommendations by January 2005.