Geneva - The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the breakthrough agreement on essential health research and development (R&D) reached by the World Health Assembly (WHA).
With a resolution passed yesterday by the annual meeting of health ministers, governments today agreed to start talks to establish a global plan of action to tackle the current crisis in R&D and to implement the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Intellectual property, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH).
"The current system that is based on patents and high drug prices as the way to finance R&D leaves huge health needs unmet, particularly in developing countries, and it leaves millions without access to the drugs they need," said Ellen 't Hoen, Director of Policy and Advocacy at MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.
"Without political leadership, the gaping holes in essential R&D and the lack of access to innovations will never be adequately addressed. This week, we have seen health ministers take the lead, and show that they want to set the priorities, they want to find new ways of financing the development of new products, and they want to assure access to innovations for all."
By passing the resolution that was based on an initial proposal by Kenya and Brazil, countries are agreeing to work towards "...securing an enhanced and sustainable basis for needs-driven, essential health R&D." This will ensure that patients' needs - and not simply profits - drive medical innovation.
"For the first time, we're starting to see action that begins to mirror the magnitude of the problems and needs that we witness everyday in our field programmes," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of R&D at MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.
"This is a crucial first step that will help put in place new ways of stimulating R&D for health problems that so far industry has ignored."
Published in April 2006, the CIPIH report added to the growing body of evidence showing that the system is fundamentally flawed because it steers investment towards areas of highest profitability, and thus fails to find a balance between global medical needs and resource allocation.