Monday, December 04, 2006

Discussion on WHO experts at meeting on R&D

4 December 2006
Thiru Balasubramaniam

Today is the first day of the inaugural meeting of World Health Organization (WHO) Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property mandated by the World Health Assembly Resolution (WHA) 59.24 to establish an intergovernmental working group
open to all interested Member States to draw up a global strategy and plan of action in order to provide a medium-term framework based on the recommendations of the Commission. Such a strategy and plan of action aims at, inter alia, securing an enhanced and sustainable basis for needs-driven, essential health research and development relevant to diseases that disproportinately affect developing countries, proposing clear objectives and priorities for research and development, and estimating funding needs in in this area.

Currently a chair has not been elected. Mr. Denis Aitken (Assistant Director-General- Advisor to the Director-General) is presiding over the meeting till the IGWG has elected a chair. It has been suggested that a bureau be set up with a Chair and 5 Vice Chairs representing all 6 WHO regions, and that the vice chairs meet over lunch today to nominate a chair and rapporteur.

There has been discussion over the role of experts invited in accordance with WHA 59.24 (Paragraph 4(3)) which requests the Director-General
to invite experts and a limited number of concerned public and private entities to attend the sessions of the intergovernmental working group and to provide advice and expertise, as necessary, upon request of the Chair, taking into account the need to avoid conflicts of interest

The experts invited the the first meeting of the WHO IGWG include Dr. Pecoul and Mrs. Dentico from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Intiative (DNDi), Dr. von Schoen Angerer and Ms. 't Hoen from Medicins sans Frontieres, Ms. Feisee from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Mrs Callan and Ms. Sampogna from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mr. Iverson from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Wilder from Sidley Austin LLP, in addition to experts from the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Global Forum for Health Research.

South Africa, on behalf of the African Group, asked clarification from the WHO Legal Counsel on how the experts were chosen since a Chair has not been elected yet and Member States did not have input as to their selection. The WHO Legal Counsel, Mr. Gian Luca Burci responded by saying that his reading of Paragraph 4(3) of WHA59.24 indicated that the Assembly requested the WHO Director-General to "invite experts".

The representative of the United States of America aligned himself with the query by South Africa and further noted that when the resolution was negotiated in May 2006, it was not the intention of his delegation that experts would be selected by the Secretariat prior to the election of the Chair and thus disagreed with the interpretation of the "experts" clause by the WHO Legal Counsel. He further questioned the seating of the experts near the front of the conference room.

Assistant-Director General Howard Zucker (Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals) responded by stating that the experts were selected based on their expertise and represented a broad range of key stakeholders. Norway weighed in to sugggest that the text of WHA 59.24 required that experts be appointed prior to the meeting, but the U.S. rejected this interpretation.